Ask the grumpies: Can I really recommend accept with minor revisions in the first round?

Lucy asks:

I am trying to write a referee report on a paper and other than things I know are minutiae I have no comments!  Other than not showing anything causal (which the authors readily admit and isn’t really necessary for their question), I have no major criticism of anything they have done. The outlet is probably appropriate. So…do I seriously recommend publish as-is? Have you ever done that? It seems like such a cop out.

I think I have recommended some things be published with only minor revisions.  I know I’ve typed out under the Major section:  “I have no major concerns.”  And as an editor I’ve definitely gotten people making that recommendation, “Accept with only minor revisions”, even in the first round.  I just did one, in fact, that came back with “accept with minor revisions” from two reviewers in the first round.  And then I read it and was like, yeah, they should cut out that one section and see a copy-editor, but this is definitely an accept with minor revisions.

What you need to do so that the editor believes you (IMHO on the receiving end of these reports) is to explain in the cover letter why you think it doesn’t need revising.  So you say what you told me.  It exhaustively documents info, it doesn’t show anything causal but the authors are upfront about that and you don’t think it is necessary for them to show causation given the topic, the outlet is appropriate, etc.  The authors should be commended, etc.

It’s not enough to say, “accept with minor revisions” because then I’m all… should I trust you, or are you just lazy?  But if you can say why the paper is interesting and important/appropriate and anticipate problems that you don’t think are problems, then your letter is really helpful when I have to compare it to someone who, say, believes the paper should be rejected because it isn’t causal.  I had a situation like that once with two extremely enthusiastic reviewers and two who wanted to reject the paper outright and one of the rejects and one of the minor revisions were useless because they didn’t tell me anything useful.  If the second accept with minor revisions had told me why to accept, then the decision would have been a lot easier for me.  (Or if the other reject had said something other than, “this paper doesn’t cite [my papers]” even though it cited a literature review that contained said papers.)

Ask the grumpies: Is a single house a good investment for retirement?

Amin asks:

My husband and I own a house in a city with a very high cost of living and expensive real estate. We bought the house at a very good price because while it was structurally sound it needed (still does) some aesthetic renovations. We currently have a lot of money saved up, and we’re debating what to do with it. My question is basically: are we naive to think that putting in new windows, finishing our basement, and upgrading some insulation would be good investments? We put money into TIAA-CREF every month and our universities match our contributions, but we’re hoping that in 20 years we could sell our home, buy something smaller or outside the city, and use our profit for retirement. Do you think real estate is a reliable investment? Homes in our neighborhood are currently in high demand and often sell within a few weeks (sometimes with cash offers!), but I worry that the real estate market is too fickle and unreliable for retirement plans. Any advice?

Investing in a single property is a high risk potentially high reward proposition.  No, it is not a reliable investment. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don’t.  In addition, everywhere outside of California, increasing home value leads to increasing property taxes which make the cost of ownership more expensive.  So no, don’t rely on a single house in a single real estate market as a big part of your retirement (most people who have retirement wealth have that from their house, but that’s because they don’t have any other wealth).  It might work out but it might not.  It is far more risky than a diversified portfolio of index stock and index bond funds.

If you’re talking 20 years time, then most of the renovations you’re talking about will be out of date and not worth as much in the market at that point anyway.  Possible exceptions for things that tend to have a high return, like adding a second bathroom.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t renovate if you can afford to do so and want to.  Insulation and new windows can cut your energy costs (which is a form of investment depending on the break-even point).  Finishing your basement can increase the usefulness of your house.  But you shouldn’t consider them investments in the same way that your 403b portfolio is invested.  For the most part, these renovations will be consumption.

In terms of how much should you save for retirement, you should aim for at least 15% of your income, and more if you have catch-up savings to do.

Ask the grumpies: Who is #1?

Meaghan asks:

Who is #1 and who is #2?

#1 is the person who started the post (or comment).  #2 is the other person.  We thought about doing “This one” and “That one” instead but decided that was too pretentious.

Ask the grumpies: Socially responsible investing

Linda asks:

So many times I read/hear about “greedy corporations” doing bad things, but then I start to think about the following.

Public companies (which are mostly what people mean when they call out corporate greed) are owned by shareholders. The executives of those companies have a responsibility to earn money for those shareholders, which is why so many of these “greedy things” happen: execs make decisions based on the bottom line. (Yeah, those execs are also earning money (a LOT of money) for themselves, as well. They are hired to make money for the company (a.ka. the shareholders) and if they meet the goals/targets for sales, etc. they get lots of money and bonuses. But that’s a sideline here.)

However, just who are these shareholders who are ultimately behind this drive for making profits and increasing the value of their shares? Why…it’s us! We’re the ones putting money in our 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and/or state and private pension funds, which are comprised of shares in these “greedy corporations.” Right?

And if I’m not misunderstanding it…holy hell, isn’t this a moral dilemma for people who care about values and issues, such as the environment, human rights, and social justice? How many of us who say (for example) we abhor Walmart’s employment practices and/or boycott shopping there, are actually shareholders in Walmart? Or if we hate frakking, yet are also shareholders in companies that do so?

Ethical investing is HARD when you have a limited set of funds to choose from. I’ve poured over the prospectuses of my Vanguard 401(k) funds and shut that information away in my brain so I can pretend I don’t know what’s in those funds and that life is all sunshine, blue skies, kittens, and puppies.

Am I totally misunderstanding how my 401(k) works? Or is there really a utopia of steady investment growth for a comfortable retirement (one where I don’t have to live in a box and eat cat food) that doesn’t exploit others?

You would probably be interested in looking into SRIs (Socially Responsible Indices) within your retirement plan.

For the most part though, those of us doing broad-based index investing aren’t paid attention to by companies.  We’re neutral– sinning by omission, not by commission.  We’re not forcing them to change their behavior and we’re not causing them to have the bad behavior.  We’re not the people who move the markets because we’re not paying attention to individual companies.  Yes, we could do better by doing as you say, picking funds that are socially conscious companies and when we do that we miss out on Exxon’s growth or Phillips 66’s dividends.  We could do even better, if we’re wealthy, by buying huge amounts of stock and going to share-holder meetings to make our social justice positions known.  But of course that adds risk, and most of us aren’t that wealthy.

An alternative, of course, is to keep your money in the broad-based indices and invest your extra returns in charities that you care about.

Ask the grumpies: Intra-family mortgage or wait to buy?

Sapience asks

Do you have any thoughts or recommendations for dealing with intra-family mortgages? I’m up for an academic job at a relatively stable school in a part of the country where I could afford to borrow the entire cost of a (very modest) house from my parents. My parents have offered to the possibility of doing an intrafamily mortgage so I don’t have to worry about as big of a down payment (probably what would happen is I wouldn’t do any down payment, but would use some of the money I would have spent on the down payment on renovations, furnishings that I don’t really have right now, etc.). I know it has to be registered and that there’s the minimum interest rate required in order for it to be taxes as a mortgage, but are there any other benefits or pitfalls that I should be aware of if we go this route?

I’ve got the 20% for a downpayment, but was planning on putting off any renovation until I had more cash. My parents were the ones saying that instead of delaying renovations till I have the additional money saved up I should just do it all at once before I actually move in.

If you don’t have a 20% downpayment, don’t buy a house. Period. Don’t borrow for furnishings. Include the cost of renovations in the cost of the house when you’re doing your budgeting (meaning you need more money rather than less money to get 20% down).

It’s very nice of them to offer, but I’ve been seeing so many people (online mostly) with really good incomes hurt by not doing the recommended thing when it comes to housebuying and renovating.  What happens is they get crunched on cashflow from the monthly cost of the mortgage added to the unexpected additional costs of homeownership, which means they can’t live on >100K in, say, Indianapolis or on 175K in San Francisco.

There are definitely benefits to doing renovations right when you move in (see: living with carpet in the kids’ bathroom for 10 years), but that would argue for putting off buying until you can afford them rather than having too much debt servicing during home-ownership. Because home ownership really does bring in a lot of additional required spending over renting that people just don’t expect. A little more hassle from renovating later (if you buy) is better than having to worry about your cashflow on a regular basis, just in terms of stress levels.

Also, as Rosa notes:  “there are also downsides to doing all the renovations up front. You might not like them as much, since you haven’t actually lived with the space to see the real deficiencies. You will probably still need to redo them in 10 or 15 years. And you may find other priorities that you didn’t see before you moved in, but have already spent your reno budget.”

Ask the grumpies: Best practices for cleaning your glasses/keeping your glasses clean?

Monsterzero asks:

[What are b]est practices for cleaning your glasses/keeping your glasses clean?

Although we do not know the answer to this question ourselves, one of us happens to have a husband who has made an in depth study of this question and has strong opinions on the topic (though he is continually searching out new suggestions and will probably read the comments of this thread with great interest).

DH says:  What I do now is, if they’re dirty with oil or grease, I wash them with soap and water in the sink, then shake them as dry as I can get them and then sort of lightly dab them with a towel to get the water off, then use micro-fiber cloth.

For everyday use, like when I get up in the morning, I wipe them down with micro-fiber.

I also have Zeiss disposible wipes, but I haven’t bought any in a while.  I keep some in the car.

Note to follow the instructions on washing the micro-fiber cloths.  They can be hand-washed (without fabric softener!) but shouldn’t be dried in the dryer.

When you get glasses, I recommend always getting the hardness coating.  I’ve gotten other coatings and they’ve been of varying benefits, but they always scratch too easily, whereas with the hardness coating my glasses tend to last until the frame breaks.

I think that’s pretty much it.

[end DH]

Ask the grumpies: How to handle the emotional aspects of moving for a job

Katherine asks:

A question about moving for a job, with a spouse:

I am about to finish my phd, and I’ve been interviewing for jobs all over the country. My husband and I currently live in his home state (where we met, but I have no ties to this place other than I love his family who mostly live in state), and if I wasn’t in the picture he would want to stay here (in this state) for the rest of his life. He hates our current city and doesn’t have good job prospects here anyway. We’re both really excited about moving away from here, but I’m feeling increasingly guilty about being the reason he’s going to move across the country to a place he’s never been – and nervous myself about moving to a place I will have probably only visited for 30 hours, tops. How did you and your partners handle the emotional aspects of moving for academic jobs?

Don’t feel guilty! This is a fun new adventure for both of you! Going to a new place that you’ve never been before and living there is a wonderful thing to do– you become more cultured and a better person. Like that wear sunscreen graduation speech goes (“Live in NYC but not so long that it makes you hard, live in LA but not so long as it makes you soft”). And if it doesn’t work out, you can do like #2 did and move again.  It’s only a permanent thing if you want it to be.

(Note:  #2 had to move for a job without her significant other– that was pretty awful emotionally.  But the moving to a new place means lots of fun new discoveries at first, even if you end up someplace that turns out to be a Blasted Wasteland and not a permanent living place.)

Good luck!

UPDATE:  We are NOT saying that there is anything wrong with Katherine.  We are not saying her feelings are abnormal.  We are not saying she’s a bad person for feeling guilty.  We are giving her permission to NOT FEEL GUILTY and to reframe this move as an adventure and a potential learning experience and not something permanent (unless they want it to be permanent).  Her husband is already excited about the opportunity.

So please, no more comments saying, “I disagree, Katherine has every right to feel guilty.”  Yes, she can continue to feel guilty if that’s what she wants to do.  But it wasn’t our sense that that was how she wanted to handle the emotional aspects of moving to a new place and trying to solve the two-body problem.

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