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How to Sell a House

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If you are fortunate enough to have been able to buy a house, odds are, at some point, you’ll inevitably have to or want to sell it. The latest metrics from 2013, according to the National Association of House Builders, point to it being sold 13 years later. With that in mind, here is some advice on what you can do to maximize the value of your home sale.

Step 0 – Are you ready for this?

Hopefully you expertly followed my advice on how to buy a house and this process will end up being financially rewarding. There are countless reasons for selling a home, but distress sales should be avoided.

The remainder of the post is going to assume you will make a profit or at least break-even during this process. If you are underwater, stop here. You shouldn’t be selling. Or maybe you’ve changed jobs and you need to move? Hopefully your company has a “relocation” package for you. No? Consider renting it until the market returns (if that’s possible). Whatever the case may be, there is little reason to sell if you’re going to lose money. Explore all potential options first. This could be its own separate topic. The gist is: buy low, sell high / you don’t lose money until you sell.

Step 1 – Understanding your situation

Selling a house can fall into, basically, one of these two buckets:

  • Sale of second house (vacation home, rental property, bequeathed, etc)
  • Sale of primary residence

The first case is much more straight-forward and I have recently sold a rental property, so I am very familiar with this. I’ll talk more about this shortly. For the second case, the main thing I would stress is: find your new home first, do not attempt to sell first and “find later”. This is one of the worst things you can do. Think about it. Say you find a buyer for your house, and you’re scheduled to close, but it’s contingent upon you finding a new home. You’ve needlessly put a time crunch on your side. You run the risk of: a) not getting a good deal on your new home, b) settling for something you don’t want, and / or c) potentially distressing your pending sale (what if you can’t find a home in time)? The only time this makes sense is if you are simply going to rent. Then I suppose it’s fine. However, I would, again, strongly, strongly, suggest to have your new property closed on before even beginning to consider selling. If you ensure that you have a new residence in hand before selling, then both of these scenarios are essentially the same. I’m going to use that assumption for the rest of this post.

Before moving on, let’s discuss some more reasons to move before you sell because I really do think it’s very important. I, as a buyer, would prefer to see either a vacant or staged home, but this, of course, depends on the person. However, my rationale towards this is: you don’t want prospective buyers to see that you have cats (and cat pee) or dogs (and dog pee) or tattered furniture or…you get the point. You can do your best to make your house look nice, but you’re limited. You live there. Do you really want to make sure the toilet is clean every time you show the property? Do you really want to drop everything you’re doing and leave while your property is being shown? You have much more flexibility if you’re already moved out. But, it really depends. Use common sense for your unique situation. If this isn’t an option, that’s fine, you can work around it, it’s just harder. My point is: if you’re moved out, your options are vastly expanded. That’s a good thing. Try to go for this if you can.

Rental property note

One small note on rental properties that I only recently found out about…and was kind of a game changer. The IRS has a rule that if you sell a rental property that you have used previously as a primary residence, you are able to exempt up to $250,000 in capital gains if you rent it for up to 3 years. Or put another way (what the IRS says): you need to have owned, as your primary residence, the property for 2 of the last 5 years. Example: You bought a house for $100k, you sold it for $200k, you pay no taxes on that $100k gain. Note that it doesn’t have to be rented out, but the IRS allows you to rent out your property for up to 3 years before selling it (if it went past that, I suppose you could just move back in for two years; not an option for me).

Here’s a personal anecdote. I bought a property I had been eyeing for months, got a good deal on it. However, that sword cuts two ways: because the market wasn’t that great, it wasn’t a great time to sell. Selling in that environment wasn’t ideal. So I decided to rent my previous property out instead. Then I found out this IRS rule. The market came back…and…I informed my tenants I was not interested in renewing the lease and sold the house. It worked out for me pretty well. Your mileage may vary, but again: buy low, sell high. This IRS rule is a pretty good way of getting a chance for that to play out if you aren’t too keen on selling immediately after buying a new house.

Step 2 – To Realtor or…Not?

This is a critical question. One that has thousands of dollars on the line. And I’m going to spend a lot of words on it. I have my personal feelings on this and I’ll discuss that shortly, but first let’s lay out what variables are in play here:

  • Market temperature
  • How much work you’re willing to contribute yourself

That’s it. These are the only two variables I see that determine: speed of transaction, sales price, net profit. Let’s break them down further.

Market temperature

This simply refers to supply and demand of the real estate market in your area. But…what if you have no idea? Well, the Internet is a wonderful thing. Vast amounts of information are at your fingertips. You can find this out yourself, but…it boils down to how much work you’re willing to do yourself. A majority of people just hire a Realtor. However you can simply peruse the following websites to find what the market is doing: zillow.com, redfin.com, trulia.com. If you’re selling a house, you must have bought a house. Start by looking at the value of your house today. Has it gone up? Stayed the same? Lost value? Start tracking houses that resemble your own. What are they listed for? What do they end up selling for? How long were they are on the market? Redfin has all of this data. You don’t need a Realtor to gauge market temperature any longer. Do it yourself.

There are really only three kinds of “temperature” for real estate:

  • Stable
  • Buyer’s Market
  • Seller’s Market

Stable is probably the easiest as you should have comps that are fairly uniform over large periods of time. You don’t need a Realtor for this. Just look at the data. Buyer’s Market means either inventory is high and / or buyer demand is low, which ends up dropping prices (or you know, the entire banking system almost collapses…). If the market is a Buyer’s Market…should you even be selling? If it’s a Seller’s Market, demand should be high enough where you’ll get a lot of leads / showings. You definitely don’t need a Realtor in this use case…which is the kind of market you should be selling in!

How much work you’re willing to contribute

You might be starting to think that I think empowering yourself to do as much as you can is the best course of action. You’d be right. I didn’t use a Realtor. I sold my own house. But that’s jumping the gun at this point. Let’s first break down what a Realtor does:

  • Research recent comparable sales; analyzes current market temperature; creates listing
    • What you can do: As mentioned above. Use redfin.com, find this yourself. All the data is there. You can sort by any number of metrics and find sales that go back a week, a month, a year, three years, whatever. Zillow’s home owner features (say you own the house, answer some questions) even go farther…they do this for you, you tweak some things, they’ll generate a report for you. For free. Free. Or…worst case, pay an appraiser out of your own pocket. It will cost a few hundred dollars, but Realtors will cost thousands. Your call. They’ll tell you how much your house is worth if you can’t figure it out. And give me a break with creating a listing. Worst case: copy and paste what another comparable listing that sold and tweak some things. That’s what I did.
  • Creates materials to sell your home
    • What you can do: Guys, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we live in the 21st century. The Internet is a thing. No one reads the paper any longer. You don’t need to go to Kinkos. You can do this all digitally. Nobody needs to have printed documents, or special custom signs, or other promotional materials. Worst case: do it yourself. Fire up Microsoft Word, there’s templates online, make it yourself. You will find that internet traffic is more than enough to market your house. MLS is all you need for “marketing” to be honest. But we’ll talk about that in a minute.
  • Shows your home for you; schedules your home to be shown
    • What you can do: Here’s a secret. Selling agent Realtors don’t do squat. They will rarely show your house. Buyer’s agents do that. All they use is a tool called CSS (Centralized Showing Service) or some other variant and schedule for it to be shown. Here’s the website. I’ll tell you how you can get access to this later. But…wait, what about that special door thingamabob that let’s someone in through a card reader? You mean this? Yeah, you can get that without a Realtor. Again, I’ll show you how in a moment, but here’s what I did: I bought a PIN combination door lock. Put it on your door, there’s a key inside, Realtors put the key back when they leave. Realtors hate this, because they have to text you for the combination (boo-hoo; one guy basically cussed me out, cry me a river). For security purposes, I always changed the code every 24 hours, but you could very simply just put the code in CSS if you so desired. The point: there’s different options here. Again, you can do this yourself.
  • Negotiates sales price and terms
    • What you can do: So, let me get this straight. What’s more efficient: 1) Two Realtors talking to their respective buyer and seller and then playing telephone back and forth for opening bids and counter offers (at least four parties involved)…or 2) The buyer’s agent (or agent-less buyer) talking directly to you? You’re telling me that agents have this mysterious haggling power that you don’t? You can’t figure out what the market will support based on recent comps / what you’d willing to sell it for? Give me a break. This is NOTHING that a Realtor provides here. It’s YOUR DECISION. What if you have multiple bidders? You REALLY think that your agent is going to provide a service for this? You don’t think they have other clients? You think they’re going to immediately inform you of offers? Again, give me a break. Path of least overhead: do it yourself. Less layers = faster output. For terms: make sure buyer is paying reasonable due diligence / earnest money (this depends on your state; but again, look it up; worst case: hire a real estate attorney to guide you through this; again…much, much, MUCH cheaper than a Realtor), make sure there aren’t special items in the contract that are suspicious (again, if you’re worried, don’t sign a contract without having a 3rd party look over it first). However, my best advice is to simply look at the contract you signed when you bought the house. Does it deviate from your contract? This isn’t rocket science people! You can do this yourself.
  • Drafts up contract
    • What you can do: Nothing. You don’t have to. The buyer’s agent will do this for you. What about if you both don’t have agents? OK, now I would consider hiring a real estate attorney to draft this up for you. Both of you simply meet, agree on terms, and an attorney will draft it up. In addition, they’ll help you with title search. This should cost less than a grand. Again: MUCH CHEAPER THAN A REALTOR.
  • Allows buyer access to property for due diligence inspections
    • What you can do: Really? Haven’t we already covered this above?
  • Goes to closing with you and takes all of your money
    • What you can do: Don’t hire a freaking Realtor. They. Are. Not. Providing. You. A. Service. That. You. Can’t. Do. Yourself.

Did I lay it on a little too thick there? Sorry. I hate Realtors (well, to be honest, I liked my buyer’s agent). Let me revise: I hate seller’s agents. They’re worthless. They are akin to a travel agent. Do it yourself. DO IT YOUR FREAKING SELF!

Let’s say you’re selling a home worth $200k. Let’s say you negotiated, I don’t know, 2.8% commission for your parasitic seller’s agent. Did your agent contribute over FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS of value to the sale of your home? Seriously. Did they? DID THEY REALLY? Because that’s how much you just gave them (not even mentioning the buyer’s agent!). Why not…pay yourself, by doing it yourself.

The only reason why Realtors aren’t extinct or a niche thing like the aforementioned travel agent is a combination of: lack of public empowerment (I hope this post helps to inspire just one person to try and a sell a house themselves), the innate behavior of human beings to freeze when things appear scary (I don’t feel like learning this; someone else can do it), and the power of Realtors’ closed network called MLS (Multiple Listing Service). Only Realtors have access to this. It’s basically an inventory of all houses on the market for your area. Soon, very soon, I will show you a trick on getting access to this yourself.

The three ways to sell a house

With an agent, by yourself, or…with a discount broker (a hybrid of both). Like it or not, agents, still own the real estate market. I did try to sell my house myself; pure For Sale By Owner (FSBO). You’ve probably heard that lame realtor line basically to the tune of, “trust us, if you try to sell your house FSBO, you’ll sell it for less, or it will take a long time, that’s why you need a Realtor“. They’re right…on one thing. When I first put my house up for sale just FSBO…I got no leads. No good ones anyway. The leads I did get were investors trying to low-ball me. I imagine if I had waited it out, I probably would have done OK, but I was interested in a timely sale. The problem with FSBO is that people aren’t looking for them. Buyers commonly just defer to their Realtor to find them properties. There’s a trust factor with Realtors that the industry has conditioned into the general population. That you need an agent to buy a house. I’m sorry, but when you buy a car, do you negotiate with a 3rd party before purchasing? You take a car to a mechanic to tell you if it’s working. You have a house appraisal done to make sure it’s fine. What’s the difference? Again, what is a Realtor doing for you that you can’t do yourself? Just because the purchase price is higher? Please! Thankfully, there’s a third option.

Discount broker

Goldilocks’ “just right” solution. Basically you’re employing a Realtor that doesn’t do any Realtor stuff for you. They have access to the MLS network, but they charge you far, far less than a traditional agent for access. It’s essentially a loop-hole into the system. They’re also referred to as “flat fee MLS listing agents” or buzzwords of that nature. You really have to do research into this yourself. Find someone in your local area with good reviews (again, bless the Internet) and a history of sales and you should be OK. These are normally small-businesses sole-proprietors / small teams that make money by simply getting you on MLS.

They don’t do anything else for you. They don’t draft a contract, negotiate, talk with any parties, or anything a normal Realtor would do for you. They just list the property in MLS and are the first point of contact for any other agents / interested parties (mine just forwarded email to me and I did the rest; scheduling showings, negotiating, etc). These brokers, technically agents, will be able to provide you with things like the Supra door key system, CSS, promotional materials, and things of that nature. But find one that allows them as optional. I just used my own door lock and put up a FSBO sign in the yard. Less than $30 for that. Broker pricing depends on the area I would imagine, but something under $500 is a good thing to shoot for (just be careful; read the fine print, there’s a “listing fee” and a “closing fee”; make sure you know what you pay at closing, mine was $195 to list and $195 at closing – not paid if it doesn’t sell).

OK, that’s about it. I know that’s a LOT of prep, but that’s where you should spend your time. Prep. Selling a house is all about research. Do it well. Do it right. Do it yourself.

Step 3 – Repairs, staging, and listing

I did my best to educate you on how much you don’t need a Realtor. It’s up to you to conclude if that works for you. I’m not here to judge, but I strongly believe foregoing the services of a Realtor is the right way to go. However, not everyone has the initiative to do things themselves. That’s fine, just understand you’re paying a premium by waiving that right. Regardless if you’re using an agent or going it alone, you still need to get your house ready for sale. Let’s break it down.

Repairs

If you’re selling a house, there’s a good chance you know a lot about it. You should know what’s wrong with it. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of items to consider:

  • Age / condition of roof
  • Age / condition of siding
  • Age / condition of HVAC
  • Condition of lawn / trees / shrubbery
  • Known plumbing leaks, electric issues, damage to interior
  • Age / condition of appliances
  • Condition / color of interior paint
  • Condition / type of flooring

You have to balance expected return of value. Is completely redoing your kitchen and bathrooms a good idea? It depends, but probably not. You’re not going to recoup the money you put into it. Does buying a new HVAC even if it’s 10+ years old, but functional make sense? No. It doesn’t. Does it make sense to repaint your interior if you have…let’s say…interesting colors? Yes. There’s different thoughts on the matter, but I”m of the camp that says if you have more neutral colors, you have less of a chance of turning off potential buyers. Does your carpet have holes in it or in bad shape? It definitely makes sense to fix obvious things like this. General advice: If there’s visible damage fix it, if something is functional, but old…let it be. The only advantage to replacing something that’s not broken is that you can say it’s NEW in the listing. 

Staging

Your house is either: lived in, vacant, or staged with furniture. I discussed this previously and consider a vacant house to be your best bet. Staging costs money. I’m not a proponent of spending money you don’t have to.

Listing

Once the house is in selling condition, it’s time to list. Here are the items you’ll need:

  • Pictures of the house: Depends on your area; but 25 pictures is a good minimum to shoot for.
  • Listing description: Highlight items that have been improved; either your Realtor will help you write this or just read other properties for examples.
    • I like exclamation points mixed with factual information and a little bit of fluffy BS.
  • Listing time: I would recommend, especially in hot markets, to list either Friday morning or late Thursday. This gives you the weekend to get a burst in activity; with the end goal being an offer on the table (or multiple offers). You can also schedule an Open House on Sat or Sun.
  • Listing price: This was covered in previous steps, but repairs or improvements may have changed this. Again, use comps that match the state of your property. In Stable markets, this should be fairly straightforward. In Seller’s Markets, I would honestly suggest you conservatively price it; there’s a good chance you’ll receive multiple offers / generate a bidding war this way. For all cases, look for sales in your exact neighborhood.

One small note, especially for those that are either FSBO or using a discount broker. Depending on your state, you will have different disclosure laws. My state requires me to list anything and everything functionally wrong with the property. If I know about a foundation issue, I’m required to disclose it. If I know about some functional defect, I’m required to disclose it. Your state law may be different, but the best advice is to be upfront. If the buyer can see it during the showing, there’s nothing to gain by hiding it. It will be seen or it’ll come out during inspection. Avoid future problems and either disclose it…or just fix it before listing.

Step 4 – Showing the property

Not much to this. You either have a Realtor and they do this, or you speak with people that want to see the property.

Once it’s shown, you will generally hear back from the person that saw it one way or another. If you don’t, simply ask for some feedback. What did they like? What did they not? Are they considering submitting an offer?

Step 5 – Waiting for offers or going back to Step 3

Either you get an offer, or offers, or you go back to the drawing board. Hopefully you received feedback to what people liked or didn’t like. You mean need to make some repairs, update something, or simply drop the price.

Step 6 – Negotiating

Congratulations. You got an offer on your home. The following scenarios can happen at this stage:

  • You received an offer at your asking price.
    • What to do: If the terms offered by the agent (the assumption is the buyer is using an agent; almost guaranteed – if not, consult some FSBO help here, you probably need a real estate attorney to draft up a contract) are OK…well, you’re done. Unless you would like to wait for more offers. Just don’t dilly-dally here too long. Especially if the market isn’t that great.
  • You received an offer below your asking price.
    • What to do: Depends on how long the house has been on the market, whether the sale will be at a loss, etc. You are free to counteroffer at this point. You should counteroffer.
  • You received an offer above your asking price.
    • What to do: This is what you want (if you correctly priced your home at least)! One warning: Make sure it’s not a crazy offer. If the house doesn’t appraise, things can get hairy. Example: You think the house is worth $150, and comps support that, but buyer offers $220. It probably won’t appraise unless it’s an all-cash sale.
  • You received multiple offers!
    • What to do: This is what you should strive for. If you priced the house appropriately (the kiss of death to me is pricing too high; it makes this scenario less likely to happen) and the market is OK, this has a good chance of happening, especially at lower house prices. The GREAT benefit here is that you can inform all parties that there are multiple offers on the property (you don’t even have to say how many). Odds are, if an offer is on the table, the buyers really, really like it. Think about how you felt if you put an offer on a house. Most likely you did not want to lose. Well, as a seller, you understand this. You’re in an advantageous position. Get the parties to get into a bidding war!

General comments: Buyers expect an answer in a timely manner. If you just listed it though, you might want to wait 24 hours for other offers. The more offers you have, the more flexibility you have. The offer with the best price isn’t always the best offer. Terms matter. If someone offers the same price, but one is only putting down 3% versus someone who is all-cash or bringing 20%+ at closing. You have a higher likelihood of having no issues at closing. Don’t discount financing!

Personal note: I was able to get 3 buyers into a bidding war. One dropped off immediately, but the other two countered multiple times. At the end of it, I got almost 10% more over my asking price. It was so much more than I expected, I was actually really scared it would not appraise…but it did (my mantra is everybody wants their money…it will appraise, things will work out). Did I make a lot of repairs? Yes. I replaced a lot of stuff that needed to be replaced. Did I go crazy? No. There’s a balance to everything. Thankfully, my efforts yielded the highest sale price in my neighborhood…ever. I’m really proud of that. And I’m especially proud of that because I sold it myself. It’s a great feeling. You can do it if you put the work in! Nobody knows your house more than you do.

Step 7 – Closing the deal

From the chaos of step 6 will emerge a winner. You have a signed contract and now the buyer has a set amount of time (30 days is pretty standard) to obtain financing and check the place out (normally lenders require appraisal and / or inspection). You don’t do anything but let them in. I would strongly urge never to be present at these things. I would strongly suggest you never even meet the actual buyer. There’s no upside. There is absolutely no upside to ever meeting the buyer. Use your imagination on things that could go wrong versus what could go right. Here’s something that will never happen: “Hey! It’s so nice to meet you! Wow, you’re so awesome…can I change the contract and give you more money?”. Unlikely. Hell, I never even met the buyer’s agent before getting to closing. Everything was done through text, email, and the occasional phone conversation.

What will happen here is…a problem is found (there will be problems, inspectors will find “problems”, they have to…it’s their job) or you proceed to closing. But let’s assume there’s problems. My advice is to not fix anything. You should have fixed all of the major functional concerns in Step 3. Anything else is either a major problem (which is going to require going back to Step 6 and renegotiating) or there’s small things: a door doesn’t close properly, a sink doesn’t drain well, some widget doesn’t work right, etc. Get them to get an estimate for repairs. If you think it’s not reasonable, get your own estimate and negotiate. If their estimate sounds reasonable, just agree to pay. If you have the balls, this far along in the process, you could just say “no” and roll the dice, but technically they could still back out (unlikely), but I don’t know how you’ll feel, but once you get this far, you’ll be mentally exhausted. Throw them a small bone, they’ll be happy, you’ll be happy, and the finish line will be in sight. I think I paid $1k towards their closing costs as part of negotiating repairs.

Step 8 – Closing Time

You, the buyer, and the agents (if you have one) will meet at a predetermined time and place, typically at an attorneys office. You will sign paperwork, then they’ll sign paperwork. You may not even meet the buyer if you plan it properly (I would advise it; again, there’s no upside); you can simply arrive early and sign your documents.

I ended up meeting my buyer, exchanging pleasantries for about 3 minutes, asked them if they had any questions, dropped off the keys, some of the appliances manuals, and the paint swatches we used…and left. The attorney said I could stay and wait for them to sign their pieces or just come back later. I got a call to pick up the proceeds from the sale (don’t wire-transfer…it’s too risky, wire transfer fraud is a real thing, you can lose all of your money…get a check, take it to the bank immediately…never use a wire transfer) and that was that.

Step 9 – Post sale

Depending on what you sold, there are some things to note. If you sold a rental property, and you’re interested in obtaining a different property, there are tax advantages to buying another one immediately. It’s called a “like-kind exchange“. I didn’t do this, so I can’t comment on it that much, but this is a good way of deferring any capital gains on your sale if you’re interested in continuing to stay in the rental space.

For everything else, you should receive a 1099-S come tax time. As previously mentioned, if you sold the property within 3 years after it being your primary residence, you are able to avoid paying taxes on up to $250k in gains! I’m in this position…and…just barely! I was right on the 3 year mark. I may revise this part once I actually file my taxes.

But…pfff! Come on! Enough about taxes! You just sold a house! Congratulations! I hope something in the wall of text above was helpful!

Final words

I hope I didn’t come off as too preachy or too judgmental about my views on Realtors. I’m sorry, I tend to do that. There are good Realtors out there. They can provide you excellent service and earn their money. I respect buyer’s agents a lot. They do a lot of work. They find properties to show, they take you there, they tell you about it, they come with you on inspections, they keep you informed. Good ones are basically available 24/7. I personally believe there’s never a reason to not use a buyer’s agent (unless you can find a FSBO and negotiate the price much lower than what it would be with agents, but it’s rare…most sellers get greedy and want all the “savings” for themselves…but I digress…). But…for all the reasons I mentioned above, I don’t like seller’s agents. I don’t believe they are worth what they are paid.

I’ll end it with a personal story. I rented my previous primary residence for ~3 years. I never wanted to be a landlord, but the market sucked at the time. I would have sold the house for less than I bought it. That was unacceptable to me. My mortgage was in fine standing, I had plenty of equity, I just decided to wait until the market rebounded. It did. In 3 years, the price rebounded almost 30%. I got the property back from my tenant and immediately started making repairs myself / contracted out. I replaced exterior siding, repainted the entire house, put down new carpet and vinyl flooring, bought new appliances, and replaced a water heater (it broke a few days before it was to be listed!). These were all things I knew I could do myself. I knew they had to be done. I didn’t need a Realtor to tell me this. Where I was concerned was…marketing. I never really thought I could do this myself. I thought I needed an agent. I actually reached out to my buyer’s agent to help me sell it. And what he told me, was a complete paradigm shift in thinking. In so many words, he said something like:

You want me to be completely honest with you? You don’t need an agent to sell your house. The market is on fire, inventory is low, your house is a starter house and you will have plenty of offers. If not, you will have investors. Don’t put a lot of money into it, just list it on a Friday, offer 2.4% in commission to an agent, and you’ll be fine. Trust me.

I was shocked. A REALTOR told me this! Granted, I believe the primary reason was that the agency had a minimum selling price they adhered to, and just didn’t find it worth it to sell my house. But regardless, this was a huge motivational boost for me to try to sell it myself. The thing was: none of this was news to me. I knew inventory was low. I knew the market was hot. I could easily see this from Zillow and Redfin. It’s just a whole different animal to hear it from a professional. I was always considering it as an option, selling myself, but never had the guts to try it. So for that, I am eternally grateful for this advice. The main point of this entire post is to pass that along. YOU. CAN. DO. IT!

Filed under Info
Aug 7, 2017

Everything You Need to Know About Pokemon GO

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pokemon

Pokemon GO, I’m sure you’ve heard of it by now. It’s pretty much impossible to avoid. Even in some off chance you haven’t heard of it, you’ve most likely seen zombie players staring at their phones running into things. That’s right. They’re most likely playing this game.

I’ll be honest…I’m all in. I’ve been playing Pokemon since “gen 1” and for simply nostalgia’s sake…I could not pass this up. I’ve now got a few weeks of experience under my belt and I know quite a bit about the game, “GO” ahead ask me anything.

What is it?

A free to play app for Android and iOS. The point of the game is to GO to as many places around town to find Pokemon. When you encounter one, you can use “Pokeballs” to capture them. Then you can use these Pokemon to fight “gyms” around town (which inevitably are points of interest like churches, parks, shopping centers, malls, etc; where people gather). This is not a game you can play at home. It is almost impossible.

What’s a “Pokemon”?

Abbreviation for “Pocket Monster”. They’re just imaginary creatures that resemble real-life animals that you can capture, train, and well..fight other Pokemon with. Yep…this game is essentially a global “cock fighting” simulator. Hide ‘yo kids, hide ‘yo wives!

How does capturing work?

First you have to encounter a Pokemon in the “wild”. You then will be engaged in a “battle” (with just yourself; there are no Pokemon versus Pokemon battling in the “field”; unlike in the “real” Nintendo games). There are two different ways of engaging: with AR mode  (Artificial Reality) on…or that can be disabled by clicking “off” in the top right hand corner and you’ll just engage on a static “forest” background. It is highly advised to turn off AR if you’re trying to play the game “for serious” as it’s much easier to find and catch your targets.

Once you’re engaged, all you have to do is slide the Pokeball up to where the Pokemon is located; more or less. That’s pretty much it. Your phone orientation is “vertical” and cannot be changed; depending on what you’re engaging, the starting point of the Pokemon is “close” or “far away”; e.g. Pidgeys are close and Zubats start faaar away. Flying things, again, like Zubat, are “off the ground”, so you need to account for that and “throw higher”. You keep flinging Pokeballs until it’s caught (it can break out; if you’ve ever played a Pokemon game before…this is pretty much standard).

There’s got to be more to it than that thought, right?

To go more in-depth, there are two “hit boxes” (well “hit circles”) of interest for each Pokemon. A white circle envelops the Pokemon (it’s bigger or smaller depending on the size of what you’re trying to catch; Weedles are tiny; things like Pinsir are much bigger) which defines where you have to “hit” it to trigger a Ghostbuster’s style capture.

The second circle is colored and progressively gets smaller and smaller, until it resets to the shape of the white circle (which is static; never changes). This process keeps repeating, forever. It takes a few seconds to cycle through. The color of this circle will be either: green, yellow, reddish-yellow, or red (maybe there’s more, but that’s what I can recall). This determines the “difficulty” of capturing the Pokemon. Green being the easiest (will almost always catch on the first try, regardless of where/when you hit it) and getting harder from there.

Finally, the “location” of the continuously shrinking circle matters a great deal. First, the smaller the circle is when it’s hit, the “easier it will be to catch”. Second, there is a “EXP bonus” that can be had depending on if your thrown Pokemon ball lands within the center of the colored circle. You can get +10 EXP for “Nice!”, +50 EXP for “Great!”, and +100 for “Excellent!” throws. Keep in mind, even if you achieve one of these, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll catch what you’re fighting (it really sucks when something breaks out of an “Excellent!”…). But…”Great!” and “Excellent!” throws are “more likely” to yield a capture because the circle is relatively small. Make sense?

Pro tip: “Excellent!” is very difficult to achieve consistently (needs to be basically nothing left of the circle). I always go for “Great!” as you have a good bit of leeway. “Great!” throws require the circle to be about halfway depleted; and +50 is nothing to sneeze at, if you can consistently do this. That said, I don’t know…the game seems to “cheat”, I’ve had throws that sure look pretty damn “Great!” to me, but don’t register anything, so…YMMV.

Anything else I should know about capturing?

There is only one “advanced technique” called “curve ball” (like the baseball pitch). This involves spinning the ball in a clockwise/counter-clockwise motion with either thumb (whatever feels comfortable). The ball will start to sparkle, and like the name suggests, the throw will curve in an arc towards the Pokemon.

For example, I spin with my left thumb counter-clockwise and position the ball to the far left of the screen. When the circle is about halfway depleted (again, I mainly go for “Great!”, I release it to the right of the screen at about a 45 degree angle, the ball will curve back and, hopefully, land right in the center. You also get a +10 EXP bonus for throwing a curve ball, so that’s nice (although, I’ve thrown plenty of curve balls and not received the bonus, so…who knows..). It does not stack with “!” catches though. So if you get a “Nice!”, you won’t get the 10 EXP bonus. Meh. It takes a bit of practice, but it is…by far, BY FAR, the best way to throw balls (the only exception being, “really close up” things; it’s hard to get “Great!” bonuses this way…at least that I’ve found, just throw a really weak straight throw).

Eh…I’ve tried throwing curve balls. I’m not good at them and I’m wasting a lot of balls man..can I just give up?

NOOO!! Again, they’ve the most reliable way to throw, yield the most consistent results, and are the only freaking way you’re going to get Zubats reliably.

Why am I harping on this? Well, when you unlock “Great Balls” (which are stronger versions of Pokeballs; there are also Ultra Balls; again, pretty much a Pokemon standard), sometimes these things curve on their own for no reason. Can you say, “cashgrab”?

Therefore, throwing a curve ball “every time” prevents this from ever happening. Some Pokemon also appear to alter trajectories (Pidgeotto, Zubat, Golbat, etc)…I watched my wife throw 15-20 Pokeballs at a Golbat before it ran away. Throw curve balls, it’ll save your life.

Here’s a decent video showing you how to do it. Seriously, you may waste dozens practicing, but it’ll save you hundreds in the future.

There can’t be anything else with regards to capturing can there?!

I’m glad you asked! Yes! Each Pokemon has some unique traits, you’ll get used to them after you’ve engaged the same type dozens of times. Zubats are far, far away. Weedles have such tiny “circle boxes”, they’ve very hard to capture and tend to run a way…a lot. Spearows and Ratttatatatas (screw them) seem to “attack”…a lot. Each Pokemon has an “attack” sequence that will nullify any ball in the air. I tend to avoid things like these (for other reasons which I’ll get into soon) as catching one reliably isn’t guaranteed.

One last thing, I already mentioned “Great Balls” and “Ultra Balls” as tools you can use to make capturing easier, but there is one other item you can use call “Razz Berries”, these lower the difficulty of the “next throw”. For example, if something is “Yellow”, try throwing a Razz Berry at it and your next throw should be “Green”. I’m not sure if these stack (throw multiple)…I’ve honestly never tried!

That’s pretty much all I know about “Capturing”. Capturing is about 90% of the game, especially at early levels (<15), so…get good at it!

What’s the big deal? Why should I care about getting good at capturing?

Well…because…the game is trying to get you to pay for stuff. You have LIMITED INVENTORY! You only have so many Pokeballs before you run out. Capturing each creature with 1 or 2 throws should be your focus…every…time.

When you run out of stuff, the only way to replenish them (without purchasing new ones) is to find things called “PokeStops” around you.

What’s a PokeStop?

It’s a point of interest in the area. A landmark, a statue, public art, trail markers, things like that. What this means is that…cities and large towns are much more likely to have much larger numbers of PokeStops than rural areas. It also means that you’re not going to likely have one near your house. Hey…did I mention the game is called Pokemon “GO”?

Each PokeStop normally gives you three random items. You’ll get different things depending on what you’ve “unlocked”, but count on getting at least 1 “Pokeball” each time. To collect things at a PokeStop, touch it on your device and when it loads, you’ll see a picture of that artifact. Then, you “spin it” and grab the loot.

Pro tip: You don’t actually have to “touch” everything that pops out. Simply dismiss the window and they’ll automatically be collected. It took me days to figure that out…

Each PokeStop goes “offline” (purple) for approximately 4 minutes and 30 seconds. You cannot collect anything new from it until it becomes available (blue).

Pro tip: Find an area that has multiple PokeStops really close to each other, or ideally, next to each other. For example, a place in my local park has three stops in the same area (an Ampitheatre, a park map, and a trail marker). There’s also benches in the area where you can sit down and restock! It’s beautiful. If you DON’T have something like this in your area…well, you’re screwed. It is going to be very, very, VERY difficult for you to play at higher levels without dropping cash. Be warned…

OK, well, how else is the game trying to take my money?

Oh, I’ll be happy to break it down. These “freemium” games are all the same. They hook you with “free” at the beginning, give you a decent chunk of starting equipment, and eventually…you run out. This game gets to that point around level 15. Not to mention, the higher your level, the more likely you’ll encounter higher level things…which are harder to capture (just because you’re a “high level” doesn’t make *anything* easier).

So how do you combat that? Again, finding a stockpile of PokeStops is essential, but even then…the game has a devious method of screwing you over: you can only hold so many “items” at once. The initial limit is 350. That’s fine at low levels. More than enough. All you have are Pokeballs! But…but…every time you level up, you are granted “more stuff”. Sounds great, right?

Yes, sure…but…there’s a catch. All that stuff eats into your item cap. And “each item” contributes to that cap. So, what happens is…you’ll get Potions (to heal; I’ll go into battling later), Revives, Razz Berries, etc. These end up “putting you over the cap”. For example, say you’re at or near max item capacity…and you level up. All that crap you get at level up time pushes you over the cap. If you look at your item list, it’ll now be like 390/350. This means YOU CANNOT COLLECT ANY MORE ITEMS UNTIL YOU’RE BELOW THE CAP!!!

What does this mean? It means your “Pokeballs” as a percentage of your inventory exponentially declines the furhter you level!! Pokeballs are the freaking lifeblood of the entire game. Without them, game over. You either have to buy “storage upgrades”, THROW AWAY your items, or…*shudder* buy them at the shop (please don’t EVER do this…).

This was my experience…I fought this for a long time, “I don’t want to pay anything…I don’t want to pay anything…I’ll just throw stuff away…Pfff…who needs Revives anyway?”, and that worked for awhile, but the turning point, for me, was at Level 20.

At Level 20, you unlock Ultra Balls and get all kinds of crap. This pushed me, way, way, waaaay over the cap. I gave in. I like the game, I want to keep playing, and I don’t want to waste my time and have to throw away items (which is really bad, you can’t “buy” Potions and they’re pretty rare at PokeStops), so…I ended up having to buy stuff…

What can you buy at the store?

For the most part, most everything in the store is a casual player money trap (you shouldn’t be buying any of this stuff), but there is one item in particular I think is absolutely essential (suspense!). First off, you “buy” things called PokeCoins, which are redeemed for different things.

Side note: Brilliant psychological trick; arcades do this a lot. Disassociate the consumer with their “money” by creating an arbitrary currency that has no logical translation. Items are priced at things like “80 PokeCoins” to give you the illusion they’re cheaper than they are. You don’t ask yourself, “how much is 80 PokeCoins”, you just buy it, the money is already gone. It’s a great trick.

Anyway, you have PokeCoins and you trade them in for “stuff”. What can you buy? Pokeballs (not Great Balls or Ultra Balls, mind you), Incense (increased encounter rate for 30 mins), Lures (set at a PokeStop, significantly increases encounter rate for entire area for 30 mins), Lucky Eggs (2x EXP for 30 mins), Pokemon storage upgrade (default is 250; max is 1000; 250 is more than enough, trust me…), Egg Incubators (I’ll get into this in a second; I think this isn’t worth buying, to be honest), and last, but certainly not least…bag upgrades.

Bags upgrades are, without a doubt, the single most important item you can buy. The default item cap is 250, the max is 1000. Each upgrade adds 50 items to your max. That means, you would need to buy, at maximum, 13 upgrades (2600 PokeCoins). How much is an upgrade? 200 PokeCoins. How much money is 200 PokeCoins? Well, it varies depending on how much you buy in one shot. 200 PokeCoins is, base, $2. If you buy $10 worth, you get 1200 PokeCoins. And…this is what I’ve done. I’ve spent $12 on bag upgrades.

I hate myself. I’m one of the cheapest damn people on the planet, and that $12 is a matter of principle. However….HOWEVER…I am greatly enjoying playing. This game is getting me to exercise and see parts of my town that I’ve never seen before (I’ve driven to so many churches, you wouldn’t believe…). Doing this now gives me an item max of 700, which….whew…is a good place to be. 700 is a very reasonable number. I can always have around 200-250 Pokeballs on me without needing to throw anything else away. When I’m low, I just do a PokeStop run. It’s pretty simple.

If, IF, you decided you were serious about playing this game. I would suggest that you ONLY need to spend about $12 to be in a position where you can function well enough without sacrificing anything.

Pro tip: My advice is…try the game out. If you’re enjoying it and think you want to keep playing, at around level 12-13, buy some storage upgrades. Trust me, it’s worth it.

There ARE ways to get PokeCoins “in-game”. That involves gym battling. This is a fairly complicated topic…I’ll get to that later. My plan is to get the last six remaining bag upgrades by earning the PokeCoins through game play.

You mentioned “levels” a lot. How does that work?

Yes, well, it’s probably the most important thing in the game, to be honest. It determines how strong your Pokemon can become. Each Pokemon has a CP value (Combat Points? Combat Potential…? I don’t know…) that is random on encounter. The higher your level, the higher the encounter CP can be. Also your “level” determines the “maximum” CP any one Pokemon can ever get to. Each Pokemon can be “buffed” through a mechanism which I’ll explain later.

Anyway, that’s a little off-topic, back to “leveling”. If you’ve played any video game, ever, this should be fairly common knowledge. You gain EXP (experience) points by doing various actions. When you’ve reached the threshold to “level up”, you…”level up”, and the process repeats.

What do I get from leveling up?

In addition to higher CP Pokemon, you get “level up” rewards. The “good” rewards are normally divisible by 5. The “best” rewards are divisible by 10. Here is the full list.

Well, this sounds kind of fighting a losing battle. Surely everyone’s at a high level by now…why should I bother trying to play?

Great question. It’s something I grappled with for awhile. I was having a great deal of connection issues and wasn’t able to play for days. All the while, I watched level 20+ players take over gyms. I was like, “how in the heck can I compete with this??”. Why should I bother playing? I should just quit at this point…

The good news is…levels get exponentially harder to obtain. Seriously. Here’s the chart:

Pokemon GO: XP Level Chart (AKA The Reason Nobody is Level 30 Yet) from pokemongo

What does this mean? Well, it means, if you can get to at least level 15-20, you should be able to do gym activities without it being impossible. The game essentially has a softcap on leveling, at least right now.

And…once you get level 20, you’ve pretty much got all you need to engage at “gyms”. So, don’t give up!

All right, what exactly are gyms?

I consider gym battling to be “phase 2” of the game. Much like the main series, the whole point of the game is to collect Pokemon, and level them up to a point where you can fight “gyms”, collect badges…and be the very best, like no one ever was. Ahem. Except, well, in this game, there are no badges, there is no Victory Road, or Elite Four (yet…?), so all gyms are…are gathering points where people play, basically, a version of “King of the Hill”. By that I mean, three gangs fight for territory and call each other names in real life.

Gangs…?

Yeah, basically…at level 5, if you go to a gym (which involves physically being in proximity to it), you are given a choice of choosing between Team Instinct (Yellow), Team Valor (Red), or Team…Team…I don’t know, the other one.

The global player breakdowns for each team are approximately: 23% Yellow, 45% Blue, 32% Red.

#TeamInstinct

#ZapdosRulez

OK, so what about the battling part?

Right. That. Well, you know all those Pokemon you caught? OK, well, there are two scenarios in play at gyms. The first, you go to a gym that’s controlled by your own team. Say, you’re team “blue bros”, then if you engage a blue gym (seriously, those guys suck so much…I forget what they’re named) you are given an opportunity to “train” at a gym.

This involves you fighting the “gym leaders” with ONE of your Pokemon. This Pokemon cannot die by battling and will always keep 1 HP, if incapacitated (which actually sucks, because..Revive items regenerate 50% HP, 1HP remaining…kind of sucks, you need to use a lot of Potions!). If you win, you get some EXP and increase the “prestige” of the gym. Every 2000 prestige points or so…another “slot” unlocks for that team (i.e. you can put one of your Pokemon at the gym and it can fight invaders). Each gym can get to a level of 10 (and I’m guessing 20000 prestige points; never seen a level 10). This process…takes a long time.

Now if I’m being completely honest…training at your own gym…sucks. It sucks. The EXP is weak, the prestige leveling process is slooowww and prestige only increases significantly if you use a Pokemon with really low CP (and up-to 10 against 1…uh, OK). I’d rather fight at rival gyms.

So how do rival gym battles work?

Oh my, so much nicer. And it’s precisely why I chose team Instinct. We’re the underdogs. We don’t have the numbers, but we have the intelligence. We aren’t part of the herd, we eat the herd. Yeah, that’s right, I’m calling you out…other teams.

OK, back to it…instead of “training” you’re “fighting”. The dynamics are a little different, but still pretty much the same. It’s now six of the Pokemon you choose, versus the current gym leaders, instead of 1. Nice. A Level 1 gym has one Pokemon, Level 3 has up-to three, etc. If you managed to beat all the gym leaders, you will *significantly* lower the prestige level of the gym. I’m talking 2000-3500 points (most gyms have 2000-6000 points).

From dozens of battles so far, gym prestige lowering doesn’t seem to make any difference with regards to how high a CP Pokemon you use, it only really matters if you beat all of the gym members without dying or escaping. The weakest leader is “kicked off” the team as prestige is lowered, making subsequent fights easier (or…well, harder because the top leaders remain, but there’s less to fight). Once prestige reaches 0, it’s destroyed, and *anyone* can take the gym at that point.

These fights yield A LOT more EXP (minimum +150; high level gyms yield 350 or more; I think a Lv6 gym gave me 750) and…well, to be honest, they’re more fun. You can use actual strategy with six Pokemon versus one, so…there’s that.

OK, that’s all well and good, but how does gym battling, you know, work?

Oh, right. It’s simple, yet deep. Here are the basics: if you’ve ever looked at your Pokemon in the main menu you’ll see some stats: CP power, move 1, and move 2. Each move has a power level; normally between 3 and 60. Like the main games, each Pokemon has a one or more “types” (grass, fire, electric, ground, rock, water, etc). These type bonuses also apply during fights. Here is the full list (yeah, the game sort of completely glosses over this hugely important dynamic…).

If your Pokemon has a move that matches it’s type, say, “Water Gun” (Water) and they’re type “Water”, they’ll receive an attack bonus by using the same type. It’s important to have a good “move 1”. During a fight to use “move 1”, all you have to do is “tap” your Pokemon. To use “move 2”, look at your “blue bar” during battle, once it starts shining you can “hold” your Pokemon to activate “move 2”. Finally, there is a “dodge” mechanic….that’s actually pretty freaking critical to surviving. You can “swipe right” or “swipe left” (doesn’t matter which; whichever feels better to you; I swipe right with my left thumb) to dodge.

Here is an example video of how to dodge like a champ:

The trick is the “flashing yellow” emphasis on the screen. Dodge “just” after that is seen. Not the attack animation. Not the move call out (when an opponent uses a special move, it’s called out on screen). Just wait for the yellow animation (it’s like…Father Zapdos is protecting me…). If you dodge correctly, you will take NO DAMAGE (or minimal; seems to be based on higher CP?). Therefore, if you dodge every attack, you can take gyms down with one Pokemon most of the time (provided your CP level is good enough to actually hurt your opponent…).

I would advise watching some more Youtube videos to get a feel of how they play out. However, you’re just not going to get the feel of it unless you fight a few..dozen times.

 

Anecdote: I got kind of put off by gym battling at first because when I finally got strong enough to try, the game was still really, really, really unstable. Servers would always be down, and that meant really disjointed fights. I couldn’t dodge, there was significant lag, sometimes they wouldn’t work, 1HP glitch, etc. Now that servers have become “manageable” I can dodge pretty reliably and the experience is a lot better!

Is dodging really that important?

Dodging…seriously. Yes! It’s absolutely imperative you get good at this. Each Pokemon has a cadence; learn them. After most “move 1″s you can get 3-4 hits in before they use their next move. After 7-8 moves the Pokemon will use a “move 2”. These are normally the best opportunity to use your move 2. For example, if something is using HYPER BEAM, you can get 3-4 hits in before it even flashes yellow on the screen. Afterwards, there’s a cool down period too, as soon as you dodge, use your “move 2”.

What else should I know about gyms?

Like I alluded to before, rival gym battling is much more fun than training. You get more stuff and it’s more satisfying. Not to mention it feels like it’s an order of magnitude of effort involved in training versus tearing down a gym. I’m serious. You can literally fight a friendly gym 10 times and generate the same amount of prestige fighting a rival gym would yield. All of this points to: CHOOSE TEAM INSTINCT.

What’s the dirty little secret about winning a gym that no one wants you to know?

Vaporeon. Va-por-e-on. VAPOREON! This thing is broken. If the developers have any balls, they will HAVE to nerf this thing. It’s stats are true to the main games. It has a lot of HP and defense, but it’s supposed to be slow. So, what did they do? They gave it WATER GUN, which is one of the fastest / strongest “move 1″s in the game. Plus, it’s WATER, and there are very few grass and thunder Pokemon available to even touch it, and those that do exist…kind of suck. It’s a freaking speedy TANK. Water Gun is SO FAST!! You can get 3-5 hits in before having to dodge. It has no cool down period at all. Plus most Vaporeons know HYDRO PUMP, and that secondary move is pretty good too!

Plus…! They’re easier to find and evolve! Eevees are common enough that you can boost it via Candies and Stardust with reckless abandon. At level 20, I have a Vaporeon that’s almost 1700. PLUS, there’s a trick that if you name Eevee “Rainer” before Evolving, it will be guaranteed to be a Vaporeon! You bring in a team of 6 Vaporeons to a gym battle…you ain’t losing. One Hyper Potion after the battle and you’re good. Pfff…heck, even if one dies use a Revive and it’s got half of it’s ENORMOUS HP back. Did I mention this thing is broken?!

So, let’s recap: it has high HP, high defense, it has strong moves that match it’s type, it has very few Pokemon that can beat it, it has great moves, they’re fast, it’s commonly found, it’s easy to evolve, and can dodge almost anything. It’s a gym killer. It can take down gyms, by itself, in 1-3 battles.

Pro tip: Use Vaporeon.

So, how do I get PokeCoins from gyms?

Two ways. Either beat a rival gym and take over the neutral site by adding a Pokemon of your own. This makes the gym a “Level 1” of your team. Or, boost a friendly gym up a level and add a Pokemon.

Now, if you go into the “Shop” area. In the upper right hand corner will be a shield icon with a number in it. This number can range from 0-10. It indicates how many gyms you’re occupying at one time. At ANY TIME, you can “cash in” this value. Doing so yields 10 PokeCoins x Shield Level. The catch is…you can’t do this *again* for 21 hours (good idea by the designers, 24 hours would be boring, people would always be coming back at the same time).

In practice, gyms *don’t last long*. They are destroyed within hours, if not sooner. Like I said earlier, VAPOREON is a gym killer and everyone has one…or two…or twenty. Do not bank on holding a gym for more than 21 hours…or you must live in the middle of nowhere. Basically, you have to “snipe” and cash in. It’s pretty hard to hold more than even “three” gyms at one time, especially if you’re playing during peak hours.

What I’ve done is, because, well, I’m an adult and have a car…I can drive to every church in the area and take over all the gyms. There’s a high chance no one else is doing this because: a) It’s a church, who is going to a church at odd hours, b) I go to them at extremely odd hours (midnight, 1AM).

Realistically speaking you’re lucky to get 10 PokeCoins a day, unless you’ve just got gyms all over the place. But if you’re got gyms all over the place, you’ve probably got a lot of people playing, and like I said…gyms don’t last long.

I have to keep getting PokeCoins until I have all of the bag upgrades…

You mentioned making Pokemon stronger. How?

Every time you get a Pokemon, you get this thing called “Stardust”. You get 100 per capture. You get some for hatching eggs (a lot actually; depends on the egg, but I’ve seen 1000+), you get some for cashing in gym points (500). I…I think that’s it if I’m not mistaken.

Now in addition to that, each Pokemon and its evolutionary line has a “Candy” named after it. With a combination of “Candy” and “Stardust”, you can “Power Up” your Pokemon’s CP. The max CP your Pokemon can have depends on your level.

OK, you told me how to get Stardust, how do I get Candy?

Two ways: eggs and capturing Pokemon of that type. You want to evolve your Pikachu into a Raichu? Better get some Pikachu candy. If you have a Pikachu, you’ll get a boatload of candy. If you catch a Pikachu, you’ll get three candies.

You can also “Transfer” a Pokemon (which can be done by looking at the Pokemon and scrolling to the bottom of the page) to Professor Oak…err…whatever his name is. This gives you one candy. You also get one candy if you “evolve” a Pokemon, I always forget this.

Evolve…?

Basic tenant of the main series. Each Pokemon normally has 1-2 “evolutions” it can perform. These evolutions are more powerful variants of the same basic monster. In science, this is called “polymorphism”. In this game, it’s just called “my cute little thing just got bigger and scarier”.

Eevee is special in that it can evolve into…well, in this game, three different things. Every other Pokemon outside of Eevee take a linear path, and some don’t have any at all.

Again, this is something the game just completely glosses over, but veterans of the series know all of this stuff. In in the end, evolve = more powerful = higher CP potential.

Eggs, don’t forget eggs!

You get eggs from PokeStops. They’re fairly common and max out at 9. Once you’re at 9, you won’t get any more until one hatches. They are in “Pokemon” > Eggs in the upper right hand corner. Once there, you can touch an egg and assign it to an “Egg Incubator”. Again, like in the main series, you walk to hatch an egg. There are three egg distances: 2km, 5km, and 10km. 10km eggs are hard to find, and you can’t “throw away” eggs, so when you find one, try to hatch those first.

Egg Incubators can only be obtained by leveling up (normally at levels divisible by 5) and through shop purchases. I don’t advise shop purchases, your coins are better spent elsewhere. A Lure or a Lucky Egg are coins better spent (and bag upgrades; don’t ever forget those). You’ll normally only have 3 at one time. The reason I don’t advise buying them is…they only have a limit of 3 uses. I mean…that’s not a lot guys. If you could buy a second infinite incubator? Yeah, now we’re talking. I forgot to mention that you get one “infinite use” incubator by default.

Pro tip: Be very, very mindful of how much distance you have to go on hatching an egg. The game is not forgiving if your egg hatches and you don’t acknowledge it, and something happens to your phone or connection. I lost a 5km egg because I accidentally close the app while it was hatcing. Bye egg. Bye Stardust. Bye Pokemon I’ll never meet.

Pro tip: The game is smart. It wants you to “walk” or “ride a bike” like in the games. That means, no trains, no planes, no cars. People have measured at around >10-15 MPH, the game stops tracking this as progress. Now, you can have a car go under <15 MPH, but man…you look really stupid doing this, not to mention you’re ripe to get pulled over by a cop. However, stop and go rush hour traffic? Maybe. Thankfully I don’t have this!

All that said, egg hatching is a good idea. You get pretty insane Stardust (especially at 10km), you get a chance to hatch any Pokemon, not just common ones you find anywhere.

OK, I’m game. I want to level up as fast as I can. Any tips?

Yes, there’s really only one way to do this: Lucky Egg. It grants double experience. The trick is maximizing that 30 minutes.

So you simply have to perform the things that generate the most experience and do them quickly. These are:

  • Evolving
  • Hatching eggs
  • PokeStops

Yes, you get experience by capturing Pokemon, fighting gyms, etc, but you’re looking for things that are FAST. Again, you only have 30 minutes, and you only get a few Lucky Eggs for free. By far, the most efficient way to level is to stockpile dozens and dozens of Pokemon that easy to evolve (read: Pidgey, Weedle, Caterpie; 12 Candy evolves, and to a lesser extent Rattata, Spearow, Eevee, and any other “25” Candy evolutions).

http://www.pidgeycalc.com/ is a good website to estimate your maximums or plan with what you have (don’t forget, each evolve nets one more “candy”; so every 12 evolves is basically 13 evolves for 12 base evolves; *cough*Pidgey*cough*). It takes about 30-40 seconds to evolve a Pokemon and start a new one. Evolving something you don’t already have gives you 1000 EXP via Lucky Egg!

Simultaneously, you should have 3 or more Eggs Incubators going that should all hatch at the same time and should be close to hatching (e.g. start a Lucky Egg with only a few tenths of a km to go). Evolve and walk. If this generates a “new” Pokemon, boom, you just got another 1000 EXP.

You should realistically be able to net 30-50k or more with one Lucky Egg with a good plan and a hoard of Pidgeys. It is advised to be near “Lures” while doing this, in case you find a Pokemon you don’t already have *and* you get 100 EXP per PokeStop instead of 50 (and spinning PokeStops are quick activities).

Do this as early as you possibly can because you’re more likely to have a less fleshed out Pokedex and every “new” thing you find is very helpful.

Why are people finding different Pokemon?

It’s how the game works. Different areas generate different Pokemon. Where one thing is common in one area, it’s impossible to find in another. If you ever find “rarity” maps, they’re all useless. The only things that seem to be common to everyone are: Pidgeys, Rattatas, Caterpies, Weedles….and maybe Spearows? You tell me.

Again, it seems the point of this game is to GO to other places and find different Pokemon.

What else do I need to know?

Not all Pokemon are available at the moment. All the legendaries of “gen 1” are unobtainable: Mew, Mewtwo, Moltres, Zapdos, Articuno…and…ditto. Not to mention…region-freaking-exclusives. North America has Tauros as an exclusive, where Australia has Kangaskhan (lol, of course), Mr. Mime is European exclusive (sounds about right), and Farfetch’d is Japanese/Asian exclusive. Wow, looking at that, that’s kind of…racist? It’s something… And…Ditto. Not sure how Ditto would even work in this game. Ditto just clones who it’s fighting, so…*shrugs*, we’ll see. There are 150 in all, however the game is just going off the “Kanto” map, there’s room for add-ons, I would imagine.

People are cheating using “GPS spoofing”, multiple accounts, and other nefarious activities. Don’t cheat. The developer, Niantic, is banning people for doing this. Don’t be that guy.

Come on, dig deeper. I want to know all your secrets!

All right, let’s go. In no particular order:

  • This game kills your battery. It is highly advised to have a good phone with a long battery life. Close every other app, set your brightness down to as minimal as you can. Buy an external battery charger. This is the one I use. It’s cheap and essentially doubles my battery. There are higher end versions, of course, but I already had this one anyway.
  • Since the game is eating your battery, it’s also probably making your phone HOT!! The one thing I haven’t heard reported anywhere is…this game BURNS. Especially if you throw a lot of CURVE BALLS. My finger tips are literally on fire for hours. It’s the price you pay though, the price you pay. My advice is uh…I don’t know, don’t play as much as I do…?
  • My situation is probably unique, but let me break it down. I have a public park literally a quarter mile away from my house. I can get to it by bike very easily. This has several benefits, I can get PokeStops very quickly on a bike in a park. I’m getting exercise…and COME ON! Riding a bike is soooo Pokemon. Bring bug spray, a water bottle, and you’re off. I’ve been to the park several times for several hours. It should be nicer in the fall
  • I have a job where I can leave the game on and passively wait for Pokemon to pop up. This *does not* work at my house though. I’m guessing the game compensates for how many people are logged in, in the area?? I don’t know. All I know is I can find 40-50 Pokemon at work by just having my phone on in my office. By the end of the day, the battery is near dead, so about 2 hours before I go home, I turn it completely off and charge it to 100%. At this point, my Pokeball supply is running low, so I go to the park (see above) and restock. Repeat. Do this until you have a stockpile of PIDGEY and use a LUCKY EGG. Repeat.
  • I just snipe gyms. After I’ve “cashed out” for the day, I don’t even bother taking over a gym. I know it’s going to be taken very quickly (I’m Instinct after all, we are lone wolves; no one is going to boost my gym). I’m like a Pokemon Robinhood over here. I destroy gyms from the rich and let any poor sap take it. Seriously, screw you blue team.
  • Don’t drive and play the game. I’ll admit, I’ve done it. It’s not worth it. Don’t do it. Your life and others are too important. Wait until you get home until you can go to the park / wherever it is that has lots of PokeStops for you.
  • Buy this thing when it comes out. All the cool kids will have it. Or not…

Who is playing it?

Holy crap…everybody! I’ve seen 60 year olds, kids, families, Asians, Indians, Caucasians, African Americans, gym buffs, runners, cyclists, nerds, jocks, girls, boys, teenagers…literally everyone is playing this game right now! It’s actually kind of unbelievable. The game is very, very simple, but has a decently deep “meta-game” which also draws in advanced players. Casual people are fine just catching Pokemon and getting super-duper excited when a Squirtle appears (hey, I mean…it is kind of exciting). Advanced people are power-leveling and taking down gyms. It’s very well designed to bring in all kinds of players.

Actually, I have no interest in this game at all. I’m just tired of hearing about it. When is it going to die?

Hard to predict, but odds say…not likely any time soon. Like I said, the appeal is very broad. It’s a mixture of nostalgia for older folks, fun for younger people, and curiosity for everyone else. I imagine the casual bubble will pop at some point, but I have to imagine the game has legs. It did just break download records, after all.

As someone that knows a lot about Pokemon (pretty sure I own every generation…what are we up to…like 7 now?), I know there’s a LOT more they can do with this game. They can expand Gyms, have special events, add in more Pokemon (the game only has the first 151; there are literally over 700 right now..and a new game is about to come out), add “shiny” Pokemon, add trading, add PvP battling, add new items, and who knows what else. If Niantic plays this right, this is the next Angry Birds.

Do not underestimate the power of this brand. It’s been strong for 20 years.

Screw you, Team Instinct Sucks, Team Mystic Rules!

No.

*cue the music*

Summary

  • Learn how to throw a Curveball and be efficient with your balls.
  • Buy Bag Upgrades over anything else as soon as you can.
  • Chose Team Instinct as it’s the least populated team and rival gym fights are much more fun and rewarding.
  • Properly plan to Evolve Spam during your limited Lucky Egg.
  • Catch every stupid Pidgey you find.
  • Piggy-back off Lures; most highly clustered PokeStops will have these going non-stop.
  • Buy an external battery charger.
  • Live near places where there are lots of PokeStops.
  • Watch where you’re going.
  • Sing this song while playing the game.
Filed under Info, Videogames
Jul 23, 2016

How to Get Free Monthly Home Phone and Cell Phone Service

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free money

Free, huh? I’m sure you’re doubtful. But imagine if you could shed that crazy monthly cell phone contract you most likely have every month. How much could you save a year? Hundreds…? More?? Have a landline as well? Are you paying for some stupid Vonage crap that’s ripping you off every month? I can help solve both of these problems.

No, this isn’t a scam. You really can get absolutely free monthly home and cell phone service through different means, and I’m going to break down how it’s done as simply as I can. It truly is shocking to me the amount of people that are completely oblivious to these options. They’re either skeptical they are for real and don’t bother pursuing the options or poo-poo it and say it’s not a good value. But…last I checked, you can’t beat free.

OK, what’s the catch? There always is a catch, and yes, the catch in this case is…you do have to buy some upfront hardware and fees. I’m sorry, nothing is truly free, but seriously, this is about as good as you’re going to get folks. Let’s break it down.

Free monthly cell phone service

During Black Friday ’15, I made this post on how to get free RingPlus service. In this case, it was a limited time promotion. But, the cool thing is…these promos aren’t really that limited. They pop up at RingPlus.net all the time. In fact, there’s one going on…right now! In this instance you can get 3200 minutes, 3200 texts, and 3.2 GB of data a month. That beats the hell out of the Black Friday promo. Again, so what’s the catch? Well, two things:

  • You have to buy your own phone and it needs to work on the RingPlus network. RingPlus is on the Sprint network, so phones from Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, and Sprint will normally work. On the main page of RingPlus, you can check to see if your existing phone is applicable.
    • In general though, the device normally needs to be not activated; not associated with an account. Prepaid or unlocked phones are what you’re looking for. So be on the lookout for sales on phones.
  • You have to pay a one time fee to set up the account; normally $15-$25.

The fine print

If you go over any minutes, texts, or data; any overage will draw from that initial one time fee (it’s called a Top-Up). If you run out of money, you need to buy another “Top-Up”. If you never go over, you never pay an additional dime, and you never should need to. That’s it! That’s the gist of it. For many, many more details, I highly advise checking out this ever changing Wiki, there’s great stuff there that I won’t go into, but I’ll try to pick out some highlights:

  • The way RingPlus makes money is through their various add-ons that are totally optional (and their more expensive plans…that aren’t free). They also make money off of advertising. When making a call (that is, when you’re dialing a number), you may hear an ad. If this is a dealbreaker for you, I’m disappointed in you.
    • There are ways to turn this off through some tricks…you can set up a radio station to listen to instead (I chose a classical station). See the Wiki for details.
  • Certain plans require “Member+” which requires additional fees. I believe it’s a $99 one-time fee to lock in some of the higher echelon caps. Sometimes this is worth it, sometimes it’s not. My plan does not need Member+. It just really depends on what you want.
  • MMS (multimedia messages) aren’t free. They’re 4 cents each. This can be disabled through settings so you can’t receive them; see the aforementioned Wiki for more information.
    • This is the only thing that draws from my account. I just need to remember to not send pictures through text. If this is a dealbreaker for you, I apologize. What I do is just send pictures through email. You just have to be aware that it’s not free!
    • I believe MMS is free on Wi-fi though.

Summary

  • RingPlus is a cellular service on the Sprint network. It’s main claim to fame in the cheapass community is to get free (or very, very cheap) cell phone service.
  • You need to buy your own phone. Here is an example (and actually the phone I use). Phones go on sale all the time, and especially on Black Friday. Again, check the Wiki, it normally has pointers to phones. I didn’t cover this in detail, but…the phone choices are quite varied. You don’t have to buy a $20 phone like I did…you could, God forbid, use an unlocked iPhone. Unfortunately, that goes against everything I stand for. So…moving on…
  • Promotions pop-up every so often. I advise searching on Slickdeals.net and / or set up alerts for RingPlus on there. I listed one such deal as an example above.
    • I recommend having a phone that is unactivated in your possession and when a promo comes up, activate it. If nothing comes up…return the phone.
  • There are so many other finer details that I won’t attempt to go into. Again, I urge you to read this highly detailed Wiki for more information.

Personal recommendation

I have been using RingPlus for almost 6 months now. I spent $20 on a phone. I spent $15 on the Top-Up for the Leonardo 2 plan; which gives 1.5 GB data, 1500 texts, 1500 minutes – more than enough for me (I actually bought two lines…I have an emergency burner I can use at any time!). If you break down the cost of the cell service over 6 months, it is $5.83 / mo. In 12 months it will be $2.91 / mo. In 24 months, it will be $1.45 / mo. OK, so it’s not completely free. But if you can beat that, I’d be shocked. The farther you go out in time, the closer to $0 a month it becomes. I love it. Again, once you’ve paid the one time fees, there’s nothing else! It’s a beautiful thing.

So…what about home phone service? There’s a way to get that nearly free as well.

Free monthly home phone service

You may have heard of things like Vonage, Magic Jack, etc. These are all doing the same thing. There’s a piece of hardware that connects to your phone and your router. A phone call goes from your phone to the VOIP device through your router and over the internet to call others. Then you pay $20-30 a month to a company for this service. Pfff, lame.

So…what if I told you that you could buy your own generic VOIP hardware? And not pay anything, zero, nothing a month to have your own VOIP phone service? Well, I’m about to tell you how: Obihai combined with Google Voice.

Fine print

Much like RingPlus, there’s still some upfront costs. You need to buy the device that is normally provided to you when you buy something like Vonage. This device is an Obihai. Here is one example of one that was on sale (including a great Wiki section). Generally, you find one of these on sale in the neighborhood of $30 and then you set it up. It’s actually incredibly easy and all the instructions are included with the device. The trick to making this free is to link a Google Voice account to it.

What’s Google Voice? Come on. I hope you know what Google Voice is! I’m sorry, that was mean. Google will give you a free phone number. No catch. It’s legitimately free. However, you need to tie it to a device…are you putting things together yet? You’re going to associate it with the Obihai. There’s a whole bunch of stuff you can do with Google Voice, but we’re going to use it with the Obihai (you can associate it with your cell phone, for instance if you want; basically, GV allows you to “hide” your real number if you so desire – want to give out your number, but not your real number, well GV’s got your back, but again, that’s outside the scope of this post).

Summary

  • Buy an Obihai device. Find one on sale. I recommend Slickdeals. Should be $30-40.
  • Set up an Obihai account; you can do this once you’ve bought the hardware and register it online.
  • Set up a Google Voice account. Not much to it, the website should step you through it. You should be able to tie this to your Gmail account / general Google account, if you have one. You’d better have one…what’s wrong with you?
  • In the Obihai account portal, link your Google Voice account.
  • The Wiki section in this post will go over any finer details that I glossed over, but everything about should cover it, but seriously…it’s super easy.
  • Warning: There is one main caveat to note. E911 service is NOT included from Google Voice. If you want to be able to dial 911 from VOIP service, you need to buy a 3rd party service. You can do this. There are many options, but one recommended by Obihai is Anveo. I’m using this. I think it’s $12/year. That’s acceptable to me.
  • Optional: You may need to buy some handsets if you don’t have any already. I already have mine. I’m not including this in the cost of purchase, as I assume if you want home phone service, you actually…you know, already have a phone.

Personal recommendation

I’ve only used Obihai for a month. Previously, I had home phone service through VOIPO.com. They charged $150 for 2 years (which is $6.25/mo). But I knew I could do better than that…I actually bought the Obihai on sale over a year ago, and I’ve just been waiting for my VOIPO contract to expire. Thoughts?

So far, no issues. Call quality is fine, and there’s a whole bunch of optional features you can pay for if you desire. I don’t care. The takeaway here is: it’s free. It’s completely free. Some may scoff at the notion of even needing a “home phone”. I say: are you kidding? Why wouldn’t I want something that’s free?? I like redundancy guys.

If you can get an Obihai for $30, and you sign up for E911 service yearly, over 24 months, the monthly cost of this is $2.25 / mo ($1.25 / mo if you don’t want E911 service). Again, if you can beat this…please tell me. I would like to know.

And there you have it! That’s how you get free monthly home and phone service. I’m doing both of these, and I can personally vouch for them. If you have any questions, or need something explained, let me know and I’ll be happy to clarify.

Seriously guys, do you have any idea how amazing it feels to pay NOTHING for phone service?! I am saving at least $40 a month here; close to $500 a year for really doing nothing complicated. $500 that will continue to pay dividends year after year.

Boom! I hope I just blew your mind.

Disclaimer: I get nothing out of this. There’s no affiliate links here. I get no referrals at all, in any way. I’m not associated with any of these companies. I just cannot in good conscience not tell people how to pay next to nothing for basic services.

Filed under Deals, Info
Apr 13, 2016

2015 Game Completion Breakdown

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Here is a list of games I completed in 2015 (in descending order). Yes, I catalog this. Mock me if you’d like.

Entries will only appear here if I have “beaten” the game. Many, many of these games are spread out over the course of several years (the record being TC:NB; took me EIGHT years to beat!!). I went on kind of a, “Dammit, I’m tired of having all these unfinished games in my backlog” rage in the middle of the year (sad thing is that it barely dents the dozens and dozens of unopened games I still have…).

Anyway, let’s get to it.

12/29/15: YOSHI’S WOOLY WORLD (Wii U). Completion time: 25:25.

  • Loved this game. Highly recommended; especially for co-op. Great game to play with your spouse or best friend.
  • Super huge nostalgia; brought significant gameplay elements and characters from original YOSHI’S ISLAND, but while being something completely fresh. That is damn hard to do.
  • Significant replay value. Every level has tons to find. Every world has a bonus stage (like the first game) which opens when you’ve found all the Flowers from the stages in that world. And, yes, if you find all the Flowers in the bonus stages, you get one final level. These stages are pretty challenging (like the first game). Good mix of difficulty depending on how far you want to go.
  • You can’t find a much better platforming experience.

10/29/15: NEW SUPER MARIO BROS 2 (3DS). Completion time: 6:29.

  • Fun game. It’s a 2D Mario platformer.
  • I don’t know though…something about this game just feels “weird”. The level design is very chaotic and…strange.
  • Not to mention the game is very short! Definitely the fastest I’ve ever beaten a Mario platformer. Not a lot of replay value.

9/19/15: XENOBLADE CHRONCILES (Wii). Completion time: 80:20.

  • This is game that took several years to complete (it came out in 2012 in US).
  • This game is breathtaking. Such scale, such detail. Does about as much as the Wii is capable of (it originally came out in 2010!!).
  • Fun battle system, fun English (UK) dub, “It’s a Krabble!”. Just a fun game. It’s one of those games where you can just wander around and be happy (I liked to do this in the ocean of Zelda: Windwaker, but this game is a whole ‘nother level).
  • I can’t bring myself to rebuy this for 3DS though. Playing Xenoblade X now. Seems nothing like this game, but I’m only very early into it.
  • This is by far the jewel of the Wii. If you like JRPGs this is the best the Wii has to offer.
  • Xenoblade was the reason I wrote this “open letter” to Nintendo in 2011. I’m glad it was finally released. It was worth the wait (and the 3 years it took me to beat).

8/21/15: TRIPLE TRIAD (Android). Completion time: Unknown.

  • I umm, I uhh…was kind of obsessed with this game. See my review here.
  • I have no idea how many hours I spent on this, but it had to be close to 100. I would wake up in the middle of the night to play it. It was the first thing I played when I got home. You could only play it 15-20 minutes at a time, but that normally happened, at least, 3-4 times a day.
  • Square then made “crystal regeneration” double speed, and…I sort of lost interest. Before that online became crippled with no variation in strategy and everyone left. It’s a shame, this game could have had legs, but once I found most of the cards, I was done. Coupled with inability to find games…well…what’s the point?
  • I think Square is still making updates to it, and adding new content, but, ehh…I haven’t bothered to try and transfer this over to my new phone. It’s probably for the best, this was like crack for awhile, I’m glad to be over it.

8/5/15: TRAUMA TEAM (Wii). Completion time: 14:59.

  • This was a straight-up speed run. I beat this as fast as I could.
  • Very, very different than the 3…4 (?) other games in this series, which I have all beaten. Reminds me of what “Sonic Adventure” did to the Sonic games. 5-6 different characters with different abilities / scenarios…not all of them very fun.
  • I enjoyed it, but much preferred the predecessors. The sad thing is…this series is in a coma.  I was really hoping a Wii U version would be made for this, as it would make GREAT use of the game pad.
  • I still listen to this song, over and over and over and over…

8/1/15: KIRBY: RAINBOW CURSE (Wii U). Completion time: 9:44.

  • Pretty much a straight rip of Canvas Curse (which was an excellent DS game).
  • Liked the game, just felt like it was a shell of what it could be. No real bonus modes. Not much replay value…stopped at 94% complete (some of the “bonus” modes are ridiculously hard…I gave up).
  • Good, solid platformer though. It’s definitely unique, and is one of the best games to use the Wii U Gamepad.

7/27/15: TRAUMA CENTER: NEW BLOOD (Wii). Completion time: 73:53:51.

  • Oh man…what a game! First and only game in the series that had online leaderboards…you do NOT want to do that to me Atlus! I would spend hours and hours and hours on one level getting into the top 10! This was a worldwide top 10 too! Before the servers went down I still owned several #1 world records and a lot of top 10s on several levels. It’s on my TODO list to post these pictures / videos somewhere…
  • Such a crazy amount of content and clearing to do in this game… Two characters, three difficulties, co-op mode, four possible ranks. That means you need to beat every stage 12 times and get the best rank. My OCD attempted this (I had XS’d every stage in the series up to this point afterall…). I spent time over eight years trying…I just couldn’t do it. I finally just decided to “beat it”.
  • Good memories of this one. Was probably the last game where I actually played local co-op with a friend. End of an era…

7/21/15ZELDA: SPIRIT TRACKS. Completion time: ~20-30 hours.

  • I played this game on two different consoles, so I don’t have a definitive time (read: too lazy to go and figure it out).
  • I hate this game. I HATE THIS GAME. It was beyond frustrating. I tabled the final “dungeon” for years because it pissed me off. I hate the controls. The game would be fine if it let me use buttons. No. You have the stylus…that’s it. So much anger. I just wanted to beat this and never think about it again…

7/5/15MAJORA’S MASK (3DS). Completion time: 37:52.

  • Man, oh man do I love this game. It’s my favorite Zelda. Fifteen years later, it’s still my favorite Zelda. It takes everything that made OoT amazing, and enhanced it, except the story (which is not a big deal to me).
  • This game is challenging. This game is beautiful. This game is just a lot of damn run. Rolling around as a Goron with great speed is up there as one of my favorite videogame memories.
  • The 3DS version doesn’t really add much, but that’s OK. This game is near perfect.
  • This run was a complete run with Fierce Deity link mask obtained.

6/28/15THE LAST OF US (PS3). Completion time: 17:40.

  • I’m not a big fan of western based game companies. Is it because of the emphasis on graphics, story, voice acting? I don’t know. But I normally find some critical flaw with them where I just can’t play it. However, ever since the E3 demo of this game, I knew it was something I would pick up. Naughty Dog has a good track record, I like their stuff.
  • This game is amazing and disappointing at the same time. It’s just…missing something. I can’t pin it down. It has amazing graphics, amazing voice acting. I don’t know…it just wasn’t really…that…fun? Does that make sense? I guess it’s just way too linear for my tastes. You get the illusion of choice, but it’s on rails. I just don’t find these types of games to be fulfilling.
  • I urge everyone to play this game because it defines the PS3 though. There are a lot of interesting combat and puzzle ideas in here. Fighting “bad guys” by sneaking around and throwing bricks and bottles for the 100th time just gets old after awhile… I had zero desire to play the multiplayer for this, I just didn’t like the combat.

6/6/15RADIANT HISTORIA (DS). Completion time: 39:21.

  • As part of my review comments elsewhere, I called this, “the best turn-based RPG I’ve played in 15 years”. Is that because since the new century we haven’t had a lot of entries in this genre or is this just a really good game? Both.
  • It’s hard to describe this game. It’s a JRPG that follows two timelines (and offshoots)…simultaneously. Very well executed too. You can “jump” to the other scenarios at certain junctures and doing things in one timeline will affect the others and open new paths. Like if you learn a new skill or find an item in one, you can advance in another.
  • I liked the story, I liked the music, the graphics, the combat (which involves a 3×3 grid where you can use your skills to take advantage of enemy placement), and just the overall the uniqueness of this game. It feels kind of “rough” in some ways, but it gives it some charm.
  • It has a lot of things to do post completion if you so desire and the difficulty can get challenging. The game length is just right. Highly recommended.

5/24/15SUPER MARIO LAND 2: SIX GOLDEN COINS (3DS -> Gameboy). Completion time: 1:39.

  • This was a pure speed run. I don’t normally do this, but this game sort of called for it.
  • I have heard many, many things about the “Land” series, and I was impressed after finally getting to play this as a digital download on 3DS. You have to note that this is for the freakin’ Game Boy, so some things aren’t as “top-notch” as you would normally expect from a Mario platformer.
  • That said, some of the level design is “weird”. I mean, really…weird.
  • Bunny Mario is the freakin’ shit.

5/24/15ULTIMATE NES REMIX (3DS). Completion time: 13:15.

  • I don’t even remember where I got this. I think it was the final Club Nintendo digital download, perhaps?
  • In any event, this is a fun little game. I think it leaves some things on the table, but maybe the point is to introduce these in future games, maybe? I can’t find much in terms of sales data though, so…I don’t know if this did so well…
  • Basically, the game gives you a “series” to play and the levels are either snippets of famous parts from the game, or “remixes” mashed up with other games (like a Link sprite is in a Mario game).
  • Like I said, there are tons of things to work with that can be expounded upon, that I hope to see!
  • Their online ranking system is pretty shady though…I’m not sure I trust the leaderboards. Here’s a video of me playing the final battle in Metroid. It says I’m top 3. But, I think these “change” over time. Eww. What the hell Nintendo?

5/15/15: BLOODBORNE (PS4). Completion time: 65:57:25.

  • This is my Game of the Year for 2015. This is the best exclusive game that PS4 has. Unquestionably. This is DARK SOULS + Guns. And werewolves. And a heavy emphasis on blood. Don’t ask me what the stories about, I have no idea. All I know is that…damn this game is fun. And damn can this game be hard!
  • What’s new versus just the normal SOULS series? They added randomly generated dungeons that can be created via loot that is found through normal gameplay.
  • Lots of updates from FROM SOFTWARE slightly tweaking mechanics. I stopped playing when I hear they finally allowed CHUNKS to be bought from shops! *grumble grumble*.
  • I think this has DLC, but I’m not a DLC guy. I just don’t DLC unless I can get it free somehow, or buy a version with all DLC already on it. I have principles.
  • If you liked the SOULS series and have a PS4, dear God buy this game. It’s beautiful. It’s creepy. It’s hard as hell. However, I did platinum it…along with the other 3 games in the series!

The first four months of the year, I apparently did nothing.

Game of the year:

  • Bloodborne (PS4)

Games that didn’t quite make the cut / in progress:

  • Super Smash Bros Wii U – I don’t know how to classify this. I’ve beaten the 3DS version, but not exactly “beat” this one? What constitutes “beating” a fighting game anyway? I don’t know. But since my buddies who normally play this with me don’t appear to have any desire to play this…I guess this will sit in limbo. And I’ll instead go waste my money on amiibos.
  • Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon – Oh man, so close to being done with this. My wife actually “stole” this from me…and…gasp…she beat it before I did! I was shocked. I was really hoping to beat this by the end of the year, I’m only a few hours away, but since there’s only a few hours remaining in this year, well…hopefully I can cross this one of soon.
  • Zelda: Skyward Sword – Guys, I really want to like this game. I just…really don’t like this game. It’s ugly. And I hate the waggle combat. I just don’t know if I can push through…I’m only one dungeon down, but I’m very bored. And my hand hurts just thinking about holding that stupid controller for hours.
  • Witcher 3 – Just started. It’s unclear how far I’ll even get in this game. I like the open-world, I just don’t dig the small text. I don’t do small text games. I have a history of starting a game after an hour and never playing it again…I fear this is one of those games.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles X – Another small text game. But at least I can play it on the gamepad! Just started. This could take years, as did Xenoblade Chronicles.

Games on my backlog I’d really like to play in 2016:

  • Final Fantasy X/X-2, Silent Hill 3. If I don’t play anything else next year, I want it to be these games (well, maybe I’ll avoid X-2).

Until next time! Happy New Year and happy gaming!

Filed under Info, Reviews, Videogames
Dec 31, 2015

Black Friday Recap 2015

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BFSale

2015 “Black Friday” was not as fun or ambitious for me as say, 2012 and 2013 (I guess I didn’t make a post for 2014…step it up man!), but there are still some pretty interesting grabs here. Picked up some very high-end items that I have been looking for deals on… for years.

What changes were seen from previous years?

The “event” is continuing to get watered down and mainstreamized. More stores opened up on Thanksgiving proper. But there were less and less true deals to be had. Much like 2014, the best deals were found during the days before and after “Black Friday”.

Online ordering is starting to overtake B&M as a preferred method of choice for the casual buyer. Target, Walmart, BestBuy really stepped up their online games, and many offered free shipping with no minimum purchase.

Other notes

I’m exhausting things that I “need”, so the event has become less fun. TVs continue to be one of the cheapest things you can buy. If you want a sub 40″ TV, wow…they can be had cheap. But I don’t need those.

The one thing I really wanted was a sub $1k 4K 60-65″ TV with good quality. Couldn’t find it this year. Oh well. Still on the lookout for a good desktop / laptop replacement as I’ve had my current laptop for a good while now (I’ll be damned if I’ll use an inefficient tablet or phone to actually do work on….).

Next is the merchant review.

AMAZON

  • Rank: 4/5
  • Pretty decent haul from Amazon…although, nothing really “wow” about them this year.
  • They had another 30% off code for all books (which I didn’t use); which was nice.
  • Amazon is still the leader when you *need* to get someone to something fast. Bought a lot of Christmas gifts from them this year that’s not on this list.
  • 4-5 years ago, Amazon straight murdered other retailers in terms of legitimate deals. Now? Eh? Not so much.
  • One important note: both Chase and Discover offered 10% cash back promos for all purchases on Amazon this year. That is a major point of emphasis that gave Amazon top marks this year for me, in my mind.

What did I grab?

  • Dyson Ball Alergy Upright Vacuum: $246.75
    • Been looking for a good price on this for almost a decade. This is the best price I have ever seen for a non-refurbished unit. It’s price as of this writing is $399.99. MSRP is supposedly $499.99. This is the jewel of the year for me.
  • TP-Link Archer C9 Router + TP-Link N300 Cloud Camera: $129.99
    • Bundle was same price as standalone router. So I got a cloud camera for free!
    • This does not include a $30 mail-in rebate, so this was effectively $100 for a top rated router
  • TP-Link Docsis 3.0 Cable Modem: $49.69
    • Note: The router/modem combo was used for me to finally purge myself of AT&T. Because of things like this. Now, I’m a TWC customer. And God help me…my service has already been out 3 times in a month. Sigh…the grass is burnt and charred on this side too.

NEWEGG

  • Rank: 0/5
  • Newegg continues to disappoint. I’m not the only one…everyone hates newegg on Slickdeals. Terrible customer service, terrible website, terrible deals.

What did I grab?

  • Nothing.

BEST BUY

  • Rank: 3/5
  • Not a lot to work with from my side, but what I did get, I’m happy with. The VG phone alone is worth 3 stars here.

What did I grab?

  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PS4): $19.99
    • Love Best Buy’s Gamer’s Club Unlocked service. I’m upped until 2020 and save 20% on all video games and accessories (read: amiibo). No other retailer can touch Best Buy for video games. It’s not even close.
  • Virgin Mobile LG Tribute 2: $19.99 x 2
    • The absolute “best deals” that I continually see every year have to do with prepaid phones. No one ever talks about them, but this is crazy awesome! This is a $100 phone for $20 (I mean it comes with a charger and 8GB memory card…that alone is worth $20).
    • This is the phone I used to signup for two free (yes, FREE) monthly phone plans on RingPlus (which I talk about at length here).
    • After using the phone for a little over a month, I’m very happy with it. I have free cell service and it cost me $20. Yay! I finally have a 4G phone (and a backup one).

TARGET

  • Rank: 4/5
  • I didn’t get a lot, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have a pretty solid showing.
  • They had different kinds of sales and promotions all through Thanksgiving week. They had $50 off $100 decoration / lights. They had 15% and 20% off whole order codes (which were abused to all hell…) around Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday.
  • If you really wanted to game the system, which many did on Slickdeals, they also had baby and wedding registry 15% coupons (open up a registry in your name; actual baby or marriage be damned) which ALSO stacked. As far as I understand it worked on pretty high-end things like TVs. This was a little too sketch, even for me.
  • One thing I did grab was a 20% off your order in December with purchase of $75+; which is really nice. Wife is all about Target Redperks and Cartwheel, so she had some additional coupons and a “5% off day” which stacked with this 20% off coupon. Plus we have a RedCard which saves another 5%. Hell of a deal.
  • What didn’t go so well? Their website. It was absolutely trashed all day, every day. I wanted to try to get a few things, but I gave up. Hopefully they can fix this next year…

What did I grab?

  • It’s a secret! Most of the items were gifts.

WALMART

  • Rank: 1/5
  • Notes: Walmart continues to disappoint. I just don’t like their website. It’s confusing to find stuff (Target was far worse, they’ve improved significantly). There just weren’t any “blow your mind” deals here. There hardly ever are.
  • I didn’t buy anything, but they did have “Doorbuster” deals where, I guess, if you got there, you were guaranteed an item. I refuse to ever B&M shop at Walmart. Haven’t done it. Don’t ever intend to. Yay for crappy BF model specific junk anyway. Don’t waste your time with that.
  • I guess they also pricematched…? I don’t know. I don’t do pricematching. I’m not a big fan of Walmart and the Walton empire anyway, so there’s no love lost here. I have never spent much at this store.

What did I grab?

  • Nothing.

HOME DEPOT

LOWE’S

  • Rank: 0/5
  • Didn’t hear a peep out of these two. Normally I get *something* from them. In the past, I’ve found some good appliance deals. Eh…guess I didn’t look hard enough.

What did I grab?

  • Nothing.

 

GROUPON

  • Rank: 1/5
  • I got an “OK” deal when it comes down to it. I was supposed to get the item below for $80, based on a code at checkout called LOCAL20; which takes $20 off. It worked, I checked out. Now I look at my statement. It was $100. Screw you Groupon. I barely use them, and now they’ve pissed me off.
  • What I did was take the $100 giftcard at Newegg, and buy eBay gift cards (because newegg sucks). Now I’m rolling, rolling, rolling (buy eBay giftcards at a discount with eBay giftcards).

What did I grab?

  • $100 giftcard at Newegg + Premier membership for $100.

SEARS

  • Rank: 3/5
  • I just like Sears. I went into this in great detail. They’re like the underdog of the retail world. They continually give out amazing deals. Free points. Free stuff. All year long.
  • However, their website sucks and is very, very buggy. And their SYWR program is easily the most complicated system in retail history (even worse than KOHLS!). But if you master it, oh boy…you can do a lot of damage.
  • Didn’t get a lot this year, but did knock out some birthday gifts.
  • Sears doesn’t normally have great BF/CM showings, but they continually roll out insane (sometimes free) deals all year long.

What did I grab?

  • It’s a secret!

KOHLS

  • Rank: 3/5
  • Here’s a new one to the list. I’ve never shopped at KOHL’s online (and try to avoid their store; I hate clothes shopping…).
  • KOHL’S uses a gimmicky form of properietary currency known as KOHL’S CASH. They also have another rewards program that accumulates points the more you buy stuff (Yes2You Rewards). This acts as KOHL’S CASH. The thing with this KC is that is expires very quickly.
  • For the holidays they were giving out $15 in KOHL’S CASH for every $50 spend (if I’m not mistaken). So buying high-end things at a discount worked beautifully.

What did I grab?

  • iRobot Roomba 761 Vacuum Cleaning Robot with Replenishment Kit: $340
    • Note: Not only is this a good price for this roomba (MSRP is $700; normally can be had for ~$450), but it came with $105 in KOHL’S CASH; which I used to buy clothes a week later.
    • And by the way, I freaking love this guy! He’s so cool. I always wanted a pet robot to do shit for me. His name is Roomba (I’m not very creative).
    • Final note: First comment on a front-page at Slickdeals! I’m so proud of myself.

 

Overall: 3/5

It was an “ehhh, OK” year for 2015. I picked up some long sought after items (Dyson), got some neat things (Roomba), and revamped some of my services (RingPlus phones, new router/modem), but outside of some very specific things, there was just a lot of effort needed and some craftiness to find the best deals. I fear this is going to be the norm from here on in (unless we go into another recession; which looks possible…). That said, I picked up some solid entries and filled some niches that I have been looking at for a long, long time.

Who won?

That’s tough to say. It depends on what you needed. Target had a solid showing with some great promotions. It was generally fun and interesting looking for deals at Target. Best Buy had some good sales on high-end TVs, but I couldn’t pull the trigger. Amazon did OK, as always. Walmart, newegg sucked. Kohl’s had some diamonds with KOHL’S CASH stacking.

For the slickdeal professional though, Target was probably the winner based on all the crafty coupon stacking you could do. So let’s go with that. Congratulations Target! You won Black Friday / Cyber Monday!

Here’s hoping for a fantastic BF for 2016! Happy New Year!

 

Filed under Deals, Info
Dec 31, 2015

Thoughts on Dave Ramsey and Financial Matters

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One day in 2013, I happened to stumble upon The Dave Ramsey show and listened to it while on my way home from work. … I was not amused. This “no-name” punk Dave Ramsey just took the slot that was being occupied by The Jason Lewis show; one of my absolute favorite talk radio hosts.

Small aside: I seriously loved that show. Really compelling, deep discussion on multiple topics. He made very rational, fact-based arguments that were hard to argue with; no matter your political leaning. Ironically, in 2014 Jason Lewis quit on air and is now just doing intermittent podcasts / blog posts on his terribly depressing Geocities-esque website. Sad…I’m not sure I’ll ever find a show so brilliant again, but I digress…

But after my initial confusion / hatred of what just went down (hardly surprising, this particular station went from classic rock to alternative to country to talk radio; it has no idea what the hell it’s doing) with the switching of shows, after I started listening to The Dave Ramsey show for about 10-20 minutes, I could not believe what I was hearing. I was literally shocked.

Wait a minute!! Wait a minute…you’re telling me there’s someone else in the world that thinks like…me?!? And…they’re the 7th most listened talk show in the U.S. No F’ing way.

What’s this all about?

Dave Ramsey’s core theme of his show, literally, this is essentially it, stop spending money you don’t have. Boom. That’s. It. He takes calls from people doing stupid shit financially, and then tells them how to stop doing stupid shit. It’s unbelievable. Basically all the things I wrote about here, he covers in a daily radio program (except one major deviation with credit use, which I’ll discuss later).

He has written several books (Total Money Makeover is his bread and butter), has an aforementioned top ten syndicated talk show, runs several roadshow / tours a year, and has an extensive network of affiliates. The guy makes a shit ton of money, and again, has become popular by basically telling you how dumb you are with your actions. Some people don’t like his abrasive attitude, or his right-leaning, evangelical slant, but I don’t care about any of that. I care about his core message. His radio show is a financial talk show. I don’t know if there’s anything else like it, I certainly had never heard nor have heard anything comparable since, and I absolutely eat it up. I’ve been listening for about two years now. It does not get old to me.

So what exactly does he talk about?

His “platform” is his 7 Baby Steps (which he admits was completely stolen from What About Bob?; good movie – watch it). Without going into too much detail (you can read it on his website), it’s basically, in order:

  • Make sure you’ve got an emergency fund
  • Pay off all debt
  • Bolster your emergency fund further to brace against severe hardship (3-6 months)
  • Max out retirement contributions
  • College funding for children (I’m not completely sold on this, I’ll discuss later)
  • Pay off home mortgage as fast as you can
  • Build wealth and donate

Pretty simple, right? Well, I thought so. I’ve basically been living all of these for several years now. Again, it was shocking to consider that, *gasp*, somebody else gets it. So, after listening to his show off and on for the past two years, I can basically boil down many of his specifics:

  • Stop buying cars. Stop it. Stop buying new $30k cars. STOP IT! Cars are the worst possible “investment” you can make. They’re money sucking time bombs. Maintenance, taxes, gas, insurance, depreciation. Disgusting. Don’t finance a car, don’t lease a car. Avoid a car if you can. This is absolutely the easiest thing a regular person can do to turn the tables. His advice is frequently, “sell your car”. Now if I can only convince my wife
  • Treat your finances like a business. You need a budget that outlines revenue streams and costs. You know…like any business. It’s a shame that we don’t actually teach this in school. Why? Because the whole damned system is a well-oiled machine to get you to spend, spend, spend.
  • Debtors are slaves. You are never truly free if you are beholden to another. You will. Never. Be. Free. Until. You. Pay. Off. Your. Debts. You must erase your debts, and erase them as fast as possible. It is the ONLY way to accumulate wealth and sustain it long-term. The more that you treat debt as a disease that must be cured, the faster you will wake up from your nightmare.
  • There is no magic cure. It’s math. If you’re in the hole, you must endure significant short-term pain to ease long-term suffering. He does not shy away from this, and actually encourages it. Eat beans and rice for two years, no eating out, no vacations, no gifts, no random purchases, nothing that is not accounted for in monthly budget. Your revenue streams must exceed your costs. It’s that damn simple. It has always been that simple, but people crave short-term pleasures, and will stew in agony for multiple decades because they refuse to turn off the spigot temporarily. This is the absolute core of his message, you must wake up!
  • Pay cash. Everywhere. All the time. I agree with everything elseI do not agree with this.
  • Stop spending. Stop buying the next gadget. STOP IT! You don’t need that huge data plan. You don’t need that cable bill. You don’t need it. If you don’t need it, get rid of it. When you are finally debt-free, and have a savings stash, revisit these decisions.
  • The other side of the coin is…make more money. Never stop learning. Pursue a career in an economical way. Go to community college. Learn a trade. Start a business. It’s not impossible. It takes time and commitment, but it’s not impossible. You just have to try…

Disagreements with his message

What I don’t agree with? Ramsey is completely and totally averse to credit in any form (except a house). He suggests never using a credit card, ever. Never, ever. Cash only. For everything. A debit card in the worst case. …

This is foolish.

Credit cards give so much extra flexibility and security and money-making mechanisms that you are an absolute fool if you do not use them to their full potential. You can escrow short-term debt, for free, and make 1-5% cashback on purchases you’d make anyway, and allow those funds to accrue short-term interest in other ways, and have theft protection, and better insight and tools to track your purchases? Again, you’re a damned fool if you don’t use a credit card the right way! Just treat it as cash and pay off your balance in full. Every month. No exceptions. Once you’ve reached Baby Step 3, this should never be an issue again.

He basically treats everyone like they’re complete morons and assumes that you cannot handle the double-edged sword. Double-edge swords are effective when you don’t hit yourself with them. It’s the same with credit cards. I go into this in more detail in this post, near the end. Utilize powerful tools, don’t avoid them because they’re powerful. Ramsey’s ultra-conservative attitude toward credit in all forms is akin to shunning a chainsaw to cut down a tree and using a handsaw instead because the chainsaw might hurt you.

But, I get it. It’s a lot easier to harp on a simple message, especially when your target audience is broke people. It’s a psychological trick that may help, just know that it’s inefficient.

College fund savings notes

The only other thing I somewhat disagree with is his call to save for children’s college. I don’t really…think this is explicitly necessary. Once you’ve reached Baby Step 3…what’s the point? You should be accruing money. I’d rather just use that to focus on the other areas. College costs are so dynamic, what’s the point of targeting something many years out? Maybe your child[ren] won’t go to college? And you’d better be damned sure my kid isn’t going to get a free ride with no skin in the game. I refuse to completely, 100%, pay for all expenses. There will significant caveats to any assistance, I will treat this like any normal investment:

  • What’s the ROI? Am I going to pour tens of thousands of dollars into you getting a degree in some useless liberal arts degree? No chance in hell. You’d better have a game plan on how you’re going to pay for college and what your career path will be. You don’t have to have a job in mind, per se, but you’d better know what skills you’re going to obtain.
  • Are you going to go to an in-state school? I’ve been paying thousands of dollars in taxes to give you an opportunity to leverage in-state rates. You go out of state? You’re paying for that out of your pocket.
  • The more money available to someone entering college, the more opportunity to blow it on stupid, useless, non-critical stuff. I’m not paying for extras. I will help with tuition, that’s it.

Ramsey agrees with most of those sentiments, so it’s confusing why saving for college is so early on his priority list.

Summary

If you are struggling with debt, I highly recommend listening to Ramsey’s radio program. It’s free, and it’s very informative. His website also outlines his core principles, the 7 Baby Steps. All of them are simple, and they’re all free as well. His paid services are really just motivational in nature, they’re useful if you’re still on the fence about living a debt-free life. I bought one of his audio books, he has some good points that he goes more in-depth on, some interesting facts and case studies, but it all boils down to one thing: stop spending more than what you make. Live below your means.

My background and why this means so much to me

I’m on Baby Step 6 and have been for several years now. Dave Ramsey sparked a fire in me. He got me to think that, “paying off your house early is a good thing”. Previously, I’d been chasing yield. That’s OK, I guess, but…this means more to me. I need to be debt free. I need to slay my demons.

I have come from nothing. I have had enormous emotional support from my mother growing up, but no one has given me a dime. I grew up poor. I barely had a father. I know what it’s like to not know if you’re going to be able to eat that week. I will never experience that again. I am damned sure of it. I am damned sure…

I have made the right decisions. Every. Time. I have worked hard for everything I have accomplished. I focused on my school first. I had fantastic grades. I went to an in-state college and received scholarships/Pell Grant aid. I do not view this as a hand-out. I am incredibly appreciative of the Pell Grant program, but I worked my ass off scholastically. I never had a tutor. I studied myself. I graduated debt-free while working as a part-time intern for the company where I am currently employed. I lived at home while attending college. I paid my mother a modest rent that was economical for both of us. I do not lavishly spend. I am one of the most frugal people imaginable. I have my vices, but keep them in check, and always look to offset them through secondary revenue streams. I am a hard worker, I am constantly learning. I bought a car that gets me to work, that’s it. I live below my means. I live below my means. This is the only guaranteed way to win the financial game of life.

I am within reach of achieving my ultimate dream…to be able to say to the world that, I am completely debt free. The house is the only thing left. Thankfully, I got a good deal on it to begin with; that makes it so much easier. Thinking about the moment when the house is completely paid off makes me tear up. It means that much to me. To have worked so hard, sacrificed so much, for so long, you’d better believe I am going to do one hell of a debt free scream. I’m almost there. To envision a day where I have no payments in the world. It’s incredible.

Filed under Info
Sep 8, 2015

How to Buy and Sell on Craigslist

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Ahh, Craigslist. How I love and hate you simultaneously! Craigslist is a land of extremes. One day, I’ll be saying things like, “Wow, I can really get things cheap here!” and “This is by far the most cost efficient way of selling product!” And the next… “Wow…these things are…really cheap…” and “I hope I don’t get shot”.

Unfamiliar with Craigslist? I don’t really see how that’s possible, but…it’s a free online advertising platform of goods and services. It’s also made its fair share of news stories. If you can imagine anything…ANYTHING…that someone might want to sell, people have undoubtedly tried. And / or died trying…yeah, really…if that bothers you, might as well just stop reading. However, as long as you make common sense actions to safeguard yourself, you should be fine. Probably.

Over the last 10 years or so, I’ve had my fair share of experiences interacting on the site, as both a buyer and a seller, both good and bad. Today, I’m going to share what I’ve learned throughout the years on how to make the Craigslist experience as efficient and enjoyable as possible.

Buying on Craigslist:

Pros:

  • You will not find a better vehicle for finding products at their cheapest possible prices; especially like new or barely used items
  • Great mechanism to find upcoming yard sales / estate sales in your area
  • Wide variety of services available: handyman, lumber delivery, hauling / moving, etc
  • Easy (relatively) to use website with simple account structure
  • Absolutely anonymous (this is absolutely the critical piece of information that makes AND breaks the site)
  • More personal communication – you interact directly with someone; normally a “regular” person
  • Only way to find “heavy” items; things that would not be sold anywhere else due to shipping costs; great place to find furniture

Cons:

  • Lack of accountability and trust (I’ll go into more detail later)
  • Safety concerns
  • High scam potential
  • Website itself is not feature heavy; very basic and lackluster
  • Absolutely no support

Buying on Craigslist has never been my main area of focus, but I have occasionally needed things from time to time. Things that could only realistically be found on Craigslist. Here are some things that are hard to find anywhere else, and are normally crazy expensive brand-new:

  • furniture
    • desks, bookshelves, end tables, lamps, coffee tables, dining rooms tables, etc (just don’t buy a couch…gross…)
  • antiques or vintage collectibles
  • boxsprings (don’t buy a mattress…gross…)
  • pool tables, hot tubs, retail signs, washers, dryers, refrigerators, TVs, etc

I’m sure you can think of some other things. Electronics, books, other media, or in general “small things” may seem like good things to buy too, but normally those can be had at comparable prices from traditional sellers. Again, some of the things you can find here are just not going to show up online. If they do, I would avoid Craigslist, it is not worth the hassle. When I need to buy something from Craigslist, it normally has to fall into these buckets:

  • Rare/Out of Print/No longer for general sale
  • Low-demand
  • Heavy or large (realistically unshippable, basically)

If you can find items that fit those criteria, you’ve got a good chance at leveraging the potential of Craiglist to get things you probably would not be able to otherwise obtain; with a goal of getting a good price as well, of course.

Cars are a good example here. If you’re going to buy a used car from a private party, this is probably how you’re going to do it, through Craigslist, and it’s going to be much cheaper.

Here are some general tips on being a good “buyer”:

  • Don’t contact someone unless you are serious about buying the item; respect a person’s time
  • Be as professional as possible and use complete sentences and real words in emails / texts
  • Don’t crazy lowball a seller, but haggling is implied on Craigslist.
    • 20% is not an unrealistic starting point.
      • Someone wants $100? Ask $80. $50? 40. This is a reasonable request.
      • Someone wants $300? Don’t offer $50. Don’t be that guy. You’ll just piss off the seller. Unless that’s your goal…to be a troll.
  • Want the item? Don’t beat around the bush. Lay out exact terms; how much you are willing to pay, where you would like to meet, how to contact you, etc. You have no idea how many people DON’T.
    • Here’s a fill in the blank template response: “Hi ___, I’m interested in this item. I would be willing to pay ___ for it if you still have it. I live in ____. The best way to contact me is _____. Thanks!”
  • Answer follow-up emails as soon as possible

That’s it. It’s really not hard. Follow that advice and both parties might actually have a pleasant experience.

One of the biggest issues on Craigslist is concerns with safety. Because the whole website is completely anonymous, has no concept of an “account” that is exposed to both parties, and has no support mechanism, you’re basically flying blind. However, it’s normally easy to “weed out” scammers through common sense. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Remember that in life, that cliche rarely ever fails. If something seems sketchy or a person doesn’t “sound right”, just move on.

I once went to look at a Mazda 3 from a seller when I was looking for a car several years ago (side note: ended up buying a new car). Price seemed like a pretty good deal; well under Blue Book value. I got excited. I test drove it. It seemed great. I was going to buy the thing outright…and then, I ran a Carfax report on it. It had a Salvage Title on it; which was undisclosed. Here’s what that means. The moral of the story? People will scam you. Trust, but verify. Needless to say, I didn’t end up buying the car.

Why is corruption so pervasive here? Well, for one, I had no means of “reporting” my car example for instance. I have no way of telling the Craigslist community, “Hey, I had a bad experience with this guy, he tried to rip me off! Don’t work with this guy!”. I had no way of “banning” the user by telling Craigslist. Sure, maybe technically, they could, but the guy could just make another account. There is literally nothing from stopping anyone from doing this. Craigslist doesn’t hold any account information, other than an email address, nothing!

OK, say you have avoided all of the pre-transaction pitfalls, and have set terms and location to buy an item. What should you do to protect yourself? Here is a general list that should apply to most situations:

  • Rule #1: Always, always, ALWAYS meet in a heavily crowded public place.
    • Examples: Malls, Walmart, Police Station parking lots (yes, really)
    • I personally like meeting in a Mall’s food court
  • Do not meet after sunset.
  • Bring a friend. Or two.
  • Tell someone you know, that won’t be going with you, what you’re doing.
  • Do NOT meet at your house or their house…or anyone’s house!
    • Almost every time there has been a Craigslist incident it’s been because someone met in a private setting or were driven somewhere. Never leave yourself vulnerable.
    • Sometimes this is unavoidable though…use your best judgement! If you’re buying a refrigerator it’s not that crazy to meet at someone’s house.
  • Create a throwaway email address just for Craigslist
    • Never want to give someone your personal email address, that’s a bad idea.
    • Thankfully Craigslist hides this pretty well, but it’s still a good idea.
  • Do not give out your phone number unless they request it and are 100% sure a deal is imminent
    • There’s no reason to broadcast this unnecessarily.
    • People love to just go, “here’s my #, text me”. Ehh…not my style.
  • Until a deal is going to happen, use email exclusively

That should all be common sense, hopefully. Follow those tips and you should make it out alive. Probably.

 

Selling on Craigslist:

All right! So you’ve got an old TV sitting around and you just want to get rid of it. What about selling it on Craigslist? Sounds like a plan.

Pros:

  • It’s free.
  • It’s easy.
  • It’s quick.
  • When it’s all said and done, it’s the most profitable way of selling there is; there’s no middleman, and mostly cash only transactions.

Cons:

  • It can be potentially unsafe.
  • It can be cumbersome dealing with clients directly.
  • It’s exhausting chasing false leads / spammers.
  • Did I mention it’s exhausting? Craigslist people are the absolute flakiest people you will ever deal with in your life.
    • Why? It’s anonymous. All rules go out the window with anonymity.
  • Good luck getting your asking price!
    • Lowball galore. Whatever you’re asking price is, ehh…I want it for less.
    • Honestly…I’ve actually RAISED the price of items when they’re not selling and…then they start selling! It’s a mystery to me…

A lot of the “common sense” type advice for a Craigslist buyer applies to a seller as well, but there are some additional things to note that seller specific:

  • Make a good post!
    • If your post sucks, good luck selling it. You need to act like a salesman. Don’t think that you can just make a piece of junk ad and expect it to sell. You do have competition here. It’s doubtful your item is unique.
    • So very many Craigslist posts are absolute garbage one sentence blurbs with no specifics!
      • This either will lead to future follow-up emails / calls for more information (which wastes your time) or…
      • Lack of leads; people won’t even bother contacting you
    • Craigslist allows you to upload a crazy amount of pictures, leverage that! Take good pictures from multiple angles. A lot of my suggestions from “how to sell on eBay” apply here as well.
    • Note any defects or unique traits about the item. Full disclosure up front saves you time during negotiation phase.
  • Make a throwaway email address
    • Same note for a buyer, but SPAM and SCAMS are more prevalent on the selling side.
    • It seems to have got a LOT better, but it was not unheard of to get a half a dozen fake “buyers” a day asking about things.
      • Very easy to spot. Short responses, posts that don’t make sense to the item you’re selling, weird email addresses.
  • Make sure that you “refresh” your listing
    • One of the few “features” on Craigslist, and it’s relatively new. As a seller, you actually have an “account” with Craigslist. In your account (click “my account”), under “my postings”, if a certain amount of time has passed you can “refresh” it.
      • This will “bump” up your post to the top of the page. Effectively making it look like it’s new.
      • Without it, people just kept double/multi posting the same ad over and over.
  • Most responses will not lead to a sale
    • I would say, in my experience, conversion rate on Craigslist is about 10-20%. That means you’re going to have to talk to, on average, 5-10 people before you sell your item.
    • Why? People are stupid. People are flaky. People are…I don’t know, but you’re probably going to be disheartened through this process. It just happens. You think you’ve lined up a sale, and…nope!
    • I’ve had sales end from the 2nd email to the time when I’m waiting for them to meet me at a specific location.
      • My “favorite” experience was meeting someone at a mall 30 minutes away from me, and them not showing up because, “My mom wouldn’t take me”. Wait…what? That was unexpected…I didn’t realize I was talking to a 13-year old, I thought I was talking to an adult. Live and learn.
  • Don’t go out of your way to make a sale
    • It’s not worth it. You’re wasting gas. You’re wasting your time. If you need to drive more than 10 miles or 20 minutes to something, find someone else. See my experience above.
  • Avoid giving out unnecessary personal info
    • Depending on the item, I may or may not give out my phone number, but it’s always very late into the process. I don’t proceed to talk to someone on the phone until I know it’s going somewhere.
    • Don’t ever use your last name.
    • Don’t give out your address.
  • Set a realistic price and expect haggling
    • Realize the market you’re going after here: cheapasses. It’s mostly cheapasses.
    • If you absolutely want to sell something for a specific price, note that in the listing as “firm price”.
    • You should get an idea of what something is worth by searching other listings or searching eBay /Amazon and then taking off at least 5-10%
      • If you’re not “beating” other retail outlets, no one has any incentive to buy from you. And they won’t.
  • Realize that even though you may be selling something for less, you may actually still be coming out ahead
    • Say you sold something for $90, but could have sold it for $100 on eBay
      • After shipping and fees, you probably only “sold” that item for $80 – do the math, the great thing about Craigslist is there is ZERO overhead to the seller.

Selling is, by far, more frustrating than buying on Craigslist, but if you accept that you’re working in a different type of market, you’ll do OK.

 

Final thoughts

I really only use Craigslist as a last resort though, to be honest. It’s still a very niche angle. But, consider this scenario: you just bought a new dishwasher and nothing is actually wrong with your old one. Instead of letting some company “haul it away”, why not just sell the old one on Craigslist?! If this line of thinking has never entered your mind, then maybe it should. If you’ve never even considered thinking that someone may want to buy your old TV, refrigerator, box spring, stove, dishwasher, or whatever else you were just going to throw away…throw it on Craigslist. It can’t hurt (well, unless you die)! You’ll make money doing this. Someone, somewhere wants your crap (hey, that’s a good slogan!).

The beauty of Craigslist is that it’s free and really quite easy to post stuff and find good deals. The ugliness of Craigslist is you’re dealing with an anonymous person. Keyword: person. A person has the capability of being an evil, nasty creature, but there are plenty of things you can do to prevent that, it just takes a little common sense.

What would I do to make Craigslist better? Well, to be honest, I think there is a huge market opportunity here. People want to have the cost savings of something like Craigslist, but with the security of something like Amazon. There has to be a middle ground (and it’s not eBay)! I look forward to the day when a service like this actually exists…or my “business partners” want to seriously discuss venturing into something in this realm. I think it’s a huge opportunity and untapped market. Local item online transactions in a secure trusted environment for a good price. This doesn’t exist.

Would you pay a small fee to guarantee that the opposite agent you’re working with is reliable and vetted? What if the Craigslist person you’re working with had feedback? Would you be more likely to buy from Craigslist? What if a buyer had 200 previous verified purchases on Craigslist. Would you be more likely to sell on Craigslist? I would!

It’s a shame, I think Craigslist has a great opportunity to expand their model into a safer place that both buyers and sellers could enjoy, but…they don’t. They haven’t. They have expressed no interest in doing so. I guess I’m just going to have to wait until we get a “Craigslist Premium”. Maybe I’ll try to open up “Ndolger”, store for the people. I can dream…

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Jul 28, 2015

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