Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My First Retraction

So it seems in my rush to judgement I may have made an egregious error. The type that journalists frown upon. I did not do the proper research, and mistakenly named Sullivan County Renaissance for Sullivan County Economic Development.

When I got home today there was a message from someone who works for Sullivan Renaissance, saying he had read my blog, and wanted to talk to me about a few points. First I thought "Wow people are actually reading this." But then I became suspicious because people never just want to check in, so I did some background, and I really messed it up.

Sullivan Partnership for Economic Development is the group that helped the Dancing Cat get their grant, and who have not acted all that excited about loaning me any money to start a Bethel Re/Max. Sullivan Renaissance is a mostly privately funded company through Mr. Gerry, who I have the ultimate respect for. (OK I can see the eye rolls as Ducey kisses a little ass.) But I am serious. Bethel Woods would not be here were it not for Gerry. He is a self made man, who has given, and keeps giving back to his community. Of all the grand schemes we have heard that were going to come to Sullivan County, and change the landscape, his is the only one that stuck. Dave Matthews plays in our backyard now, and we have him to thank.

So I apologize to the Sullivan Renaissance. (Which I also will do on the phone tomorrow.) I do think that my original thoughts are valid. I don't think seminars and grants are the way to clean up our county's eyesores, but I'm just sitting behind a computer. These people are out there trying things, and for that I applaud them.
Alright, I'm just gonna keep my mouth shut and sell some houses for a bit.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sullivan County Hassidic Community--The Quiet Grumbling.

I hesitated to post this at first, because I didn't want it to come off in any way as "racist" or anti-Semitic. However,  I thought about it, and being a local, and having my ear to proverbial ground, I think it is a matter worth discussing. And now, after reading the post in the Catskill Chronicle. Click Here  it got me angry enough to say the hell with it.

Hassidic bungalow colonies have dotted the SC landscape since I was young. They "summer" here, generally arriving around Memorial Day, and leaving after Labor Day. Many do the weekend Fri. to Mon. thing as well.

I don't know the exact numbers, but estimates have put it at round 100,000. Bay Ridge, and Crown Heights empty out, and certain areas of Sullivan County fill up. They are close knit, keep to themselves, communities. They have their own bakeries, and shops. WalMart seems to be the only "local" place they do business.

Taxes have always been a reason for some of the grumbling, and it is true that certain Hassidic properties are off the tax rolls, because of religious exemptions, and generally the properties that are on the tax rolls are assessed lower, because of their inherit lack in value, however there is some tax money paid on these properties.

The problem I and many others have with these communities, is simply the lack of upkeep of any sort. Run down does not begin to describe the state. Sagging bungalows on piers, piles of debris, ugly chain link fences. They are an eyesore, plain and simple, and they bring down property values around them. No second home owner wants to own in those areas. For the rest of the population, those areas are avoided.

But the real problem I have, is the double standard afforded to them. This county, and its local townships have building codes, that are simply not adhered to in these communities, and I am not sure why. Perhaps it is money. There are a lot of them, and they may have attorneys working on their behalf.

And now, if you read the Catskill Chronicle article...a five thousand dollar grant from the Sullivan Renaissance? Really? They gave them five grand to fix that corner building?---As well as other colonies getting money to fix things. To me it is a travesty. What we need is code enforcement. They need to be held to the same standard of living as the rest of us.

Just a side note on the Sullivan Renaissance. (Which is privately funded, so they can do whatever they want.) They also gave The Dancing Cat Distillery and Saloon in Bethel 20K for that project. Now I think that is gong to be a pretty cool spot, and it will help the area overall.

However, I am attempting to open my own Re/Max office in Bethel. Now I know that a real estate office is not that sexy, and many won't find it especially helpful in the growth of the community, but I never even attempted a grant, I went for a loan, and was denied promptly and with little explanation. However I guess if you keep your buildings crappy enough, you get free money.  Ahh but I digress.

I suppose some credit should be given at the attempt, but giving money, and a "Hands-on workshops on spring and summer gardening basics in May and July, and a workshop on improving storefronts in June"--It almost seems condescending. We are all grown ups here. How about fines for code violations? How about getting our local leaders togetherer on a united front, and like I said before, simply hold them to the same standard the rest of us are held to.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Home Inpsectors, Satisfice, and Social Networking Sites.

I generally think up things to write about in my blog while driving to different appointments. I had two things this week, and the third (home inspector) happened to me today, so I figured I'd start with that. Plus it is a rant, and why disappointment my readership with a change in venue?

A home inspector is a necessary evil to a broker. Really nothing good can come from a home inspection, because best case scenario, the house gets a clean bill of health, and you are right where you were--with an accepted offer. Its not like anyone ever says, "Oh the inspection came back perfect? Let's up the commission!"

No there is only a downside, and there very often is a hitch when you get to this point in the process. As a broker I am ultimately powerless to who does the inspection, and although I can recommend the good ones, there are quite a few times that it is one of the--for lack of a better term--crappy ones.

I have the same problem with inspectors that I do with part time Realtors. It is pretty easy to get licensed as a home inspector in NY (PA is a bit more stringent, and I have found the ones over there to be a bit more professional.) so there are a bunch of these one man band home inspectors, who turn out to be retired guys in their sixties and seventies, The usually have a Dodge Ram or some similar mode of transportation, with a magnetic sticker with the word "pro" in it. "Inspect Pro" "House Pro" Ima Pro".

Every three months that get a call, and they dust off the "thermo digital cam." or some other toy that they think will wow the prospective buyers, and they show up with all sorts of gusto, and point out "termite mud residue, or suggest "sistering" a beam before the house falls down. Mold is everywhere, and all buried oil tanks are leaking.

The guy today used a dowsing rod to "find" the septic. After I told him where it was. Really? Do you think a copper wire magically moving in your hand instills confidence in anyone?

Again there are some full time good home inspectors that I recommend, and there is one in particular that I like. And his findings have killed more than one deal for me. But he is quick, professional, and good at what he does. This is not about duping the buyer, who on many occasions I represent. It is about not scaring someone who is in the process of making a huge decision.

Haven't gotten the report back yet from the guy today, but we'll see, I suppose is esp told him they used the wrong insulation.

O.K end of rant.

While on Facebook, (which I'll get to later), I stumbled upon a blog written by a pretty fascinating Psychologist. Her name is Susan Weinschenk, and she writes about how "Applying Psychology to Understand How People Think, Work, and Relate."

Click here for her blog

I found satisfice pretty fascinating. She goes on to talk about how it relates to someone surfing the web, but I think taking it a step further in business and personal life. Most people are comfortable doing just enough, and the decisions they make reflects that. For someone like me, who is completley independent, this trend needs to be monitored. There is something very comforting about the feeling of accomplishment, but if you let it, it will keep you ordinary.

And finally I have had a Facebook page for about a year now. I am on it daily, and slowly I have started to use it more as a profesional networking tool. However, I do waste a lot of time on it. I pride myself in being witty and urbane. I suppose it is the need for an audience in me. (Hence the blog.)

It really does make the world a smaller place, and I have reconnected with people I have lost touch with, and have made some new friends, and gotten closer with people than I otherwise would. I have upwards of 200 friends, and have spent quite a bit of time surfing through profiles, looking at random picnics and zoo trips, responding to various posts. You know, Facebooking.

Anyway something tragic happened to a Realtor that I have done a few deals with. She is one of the good, full time agents that I speak about. Throughout the deals, we were friendly, but it was professional. I didn't really get to know her. We were colleagues. But we are facebook friends.

Her son was killed in an ATV accident last week. He was 26. Horrible. This happened Saturday. Now without facebook, since we run in the same circles, I would have heard about it, probably early this week. Of course it would have aaffected me. Anything like that would. I would have felt bad for her, maybe said a little prayer. I know I have been lucky enough to have always heard this sort of news about someone else.

But with facebook, I saw the first post about it Sunday morning. There was a huge outpouring of support, and by scanning through her pictures, I found many of him, his young wife, his brothers. They were a few pictures of them laughing and smiling at his wedding. Her profile pic is the two of them dancing the traditional groom and mother dance. He was good looking kid.

Because of  this odd sort of voyeur view, although I had never met him, or the rest of the family, it hit me much harder, and has really lasted all week. I have brothers, and have similar pictures on my wall. I guess it just adds another dimension to how we as humans interact. My heart goes out to her and her family though. Sucks.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cool Thunderstorm

Took a few shots of a pretty neat storm that went through Callicoon a few days ago. Left behind a rainbow. See, all of you who say I dwell on the negative--life really is rainbows and butterflys.

New historic lows on mortgage rates. And yet the market remains slow. National news just reported one in every eighty-seven homes has received a foreclosure notice. And one in every four homes owes more on the mortgage than the home is worth.

However if you are the few lucky ones who have some capital, now is the time. It may stay this low for a little bit, but it can't forever, and just like there are some nights that I lie awake thinking about how I sold my Apple stock at 18$ a share (pre Ipod, Iphone I friggin everything), there will be quite a few who will say shoulda, woulda, coulda.

There are five homes scattered about Sullivan County that I think are incredibly deals. It amazes me each week they are still on the market.

Once again...when do the cliff divers of Acapulco jump? When they water or when they see rocks? Well the water is coming in.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The "Seasoned" Seller

One of the things that unsuccessful sellers like to do, after their listing agreement has expired, is switch brokerages. It seems like a rational action. After all if you request a service that is not met, in most other instances in life, you will go elsewhere in an attempt to meet your needs.

I think working for Re/Max, I get more than my share of the second try home sellers. Re/Max's national sales campaign really gets the name out there, and often after a local agency has failed to sell the home, the sellers say to themselves, "Lets go with a big name, and see what happens."

Invariable there are complaints about the agent. He/she was hard to get a hold of, the advertising promises were not met, feedback was lacking. Mostly they feel the agent did not work hard enough, and they-- after a flurry of early activity felt abandoned.

The bad news about being the second lister, is there is always challenges to the property. Even the laziest listing agents put the property on the multiple listing service, and there are a bunch of aggressive agents trolling for good listings, so if one comes along priced right, with the right appeal, it will sell, regardless who lists it.

However, the good news, is they have already been seasoned. They do not have the eager, my-house-will-sell-in-week, enthusiasm that brand new listers have despite what you tell them. They have had people clomp through the house, say thank you, and never see them again. They have had no-shows, and buyers turn around in the driveway--perhaps even an offer that fell through for whatever reason.

And of course price. They are much more willing to come down on the price. Just like a buyer who starts out with a vision of a little perfect place with a "crystal blue Italian stream" a huge stainless steel kitchen, and a Lancaster County barn, for under 150K,  seasoned sellers begin to realize that they will not hit the mother lode when they sell, and with solid comps, and a little reality massage,  they are much more willing to listen

Even so, here in Sullivan County a good property priced right. (Not under-priced, my job as a selling agent is to get the buyer as much as possible.) can and will often sit for a while before a buyer comes along.

I went on a listing appointment yesterday, in which the owners had had it listed a few times before, even through the boom, but they were always a little above market value. They are at about 40% less than the highest asking price, which I think is still a little high, but they owe nothing on the house, and do not need to sell. Anyway in the course of the appointment, the owner assured me that while he is gone during the winter, he has a plow guy lined up. Its July, talk about a seasoned seller with low expectations.

I think this "seasoning" of both buyers and sellers is what is going to close the divide, and get this sluggish market moving a bit again. Unfortunately like a fine wine, time is the only way for this to occur. I guess the fall numbers will tell us a bit more if there has been any sort of pick up this summer.

Friday, July 9, 2010

His "Real" Job

I bring up that I am a real estate broker to as many people as I can during random conversations. Well I was waiting on line at the grocery store, and struck up a conversation with the guy in front of me. When it came around to what I did for a living, he said, "Oh do you know so and so?" I said I had heard of him, perhaps seen his listing(s). He says, yeah he sells real estate too, well his real job is...

His "real" job? The median price of a home in Sullivan County right now is down quite a bit, I believe it is around $150,000. The average real estate commission is six percent. So an average commission is nine thousand dollars. Attorneys who sue people for a living would have to settle a forty thousand dollar law suit to collect that same amount of money. A dentist would have to do extensive work, implants or intricate bridgework, to charge that. Even though we have insurance, I saw the hospital bill, my wife's doctor's fee was around that for her cesarean. We could go on and on.

And yet, with real estate, people are ok with a part time, minimally educated agent who knows little about the market, and less about how to make a deal work. It continues to boggle my mind. How many times have you heard, "Oh cousin Jack has his license, so we listed the house with him."

I do think that obtaining a real estate license is too easy, so it is partially the state's fault, but sellers need to be smarter, and do a little legwork. Cousin Jack will cost you a lot of money.

I guess this post is turning into another complain-fest, but the reason I bring it up, is anytime I have to deal with these weekend warrior agents, it drives me crazy, because it makes my job so much harder. One of my shortcomings is that I do not suffer fools gladly. I know..attract more flies with honey and all that crap, but I have a real hard time being patient and hand holding. These are the agents who over show a house, who must be present for all showings, who call incessantly for feedback, who get indignant if your buyer does not see the "gem" of a house they same way they do.

A buyer may not know for sure he is going to buy a house right away, but on a house he doesn't like, he knows right away. There is no reason to be polite, and follow the listing agent around and oohh and aahh over closet space etc., and to take that personal if I cut a showing short? Well sorry.

I've had it happen to me, and the very next person who looked at the house bought it. I didn't design the house. Doesn't hurt my feelings.

I guess I can just make this a word to the wise. Hire a professional full-time agent with experience. Anytime I do a referral, I call the office, and ask for the top producing agent. That way you are getting the best.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

HAMP, HAFA, and other bits and pieces

Just wanted to touch on the short sale modification laws that Obama and crew are pushing through. (Which is I think in theory is great.) Once again though big banks and their Washington constituents have enough of a strangle hold to make these laws and programs weak and basically ineffectual.

To be on the bank's side for a minute, you can't really blame them, although the lending practices in some cases were predatory, they did lend someone money, and it is really only fair that as much of that money as possible be returned.

Short answer...HAMP is a program designed to help homeowners who are behind, and under water, re modify their loan, (in some cases with debt forgiveness, but much more rarely than the wording would imply.) However I have heard of it happening, and it has helped people stay in their homes. It is not a simple process though, and many times as it drags on, and the mortgage is not being paid, (which is a pre-requisite, paying your mortgage can get you booted from the program.) It pulls the property dangerously close to foreclosure.

Now what HAFA has tried to do, is simple streamline a snarled short sale process, and force banks to respond more like professionals, and less like a loan shark from Canarsie. I think in some ways it has done that. If you have followed the rules, and attempted to re modify, your existing loan, and have been unable to do so, HAFA can work in getting your home short sold.

One of the issues, besides the wishy-washy wording, which keeps the banks able to do pretty much whatever they want, is the fact that while in HAMP, you are unable to list your home and try to sell it. So in many cases, homes that may have been able to be short sold, were pulled off the market, while banks in the glacier pace they all seem to move in, attempted to change mortgages so someone now struggling, could stay in their home.

The problem seems to be, that if it is a situation, like a lost job, a loan modification won't help. You can't get water from a stone, but again, banks seem to lack this common sense, and force a mortgagor to go this whole process, before relenting to the short sale.

And in their unending quest on Capitol Hill to help, they unwittingly created a whole new bunch of piranhas.

The wording in the HAFA guidelines states that agent commissions are protected up to six percent of the transaction unless the servicer chooses to retain “a vendor to assist the listing broker with the sale” and if a vendor is retained, “this vendor must be paid from the commission.”

Well now every where you look, there are these "short sale vendor companies."

Notice how the press releases proclaim these companies are creating these divisions to help the servicers comply with HAFA. I guess they didn’t read that it was supposed be the agents they were assisting. I hope that they do make the short sale process easier, but the drafters of the HAFA program (with recommendations from the servicers) shouldn’t have tried to be cute with their wording in HAFA by guaranteeing a 6% commission unless a vendor is hired to assist the broker.

We'll see, all three of my short sales started before these laws went into effect, so I have not had the pleasure of dealing with a short sale vendor. But I will gladly give a percent away if they are doing all the HUD, bank paperwork, hardship letter, financial statement crap, and have an in with a negotiator.

I will list, show, market and sell. That is what I get paid to do. I just have a feeling that these "companies" are going to know very little about how to make this process smoother, and it will turn out to be another annoying step in an already very convoluted process.