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Friday, December 23, 2011

FInd your confidence...

“All we need is confidence.” (Charlie Brown). I like this little saying that was on the Jack’s Winning Words Blog on Thursday.

If there’s one thing that holds back many new agents it’s the lack of confidence in themselves. They tend to get into the mindset that they’ll make a fool of themselves in front of potential customers if they don’t know everything. So, that lack of confidence paralyzes them into inactivity.

In my mentoring role for new agents in our office, I try to help them see a way out of this dilemma by having them develop presentations (listing or new buyer) that focus more upon the strength of the company that they work for and the support team that is standing behind them. I get them to understand that it’s OK to say “I don’t know, but I’ll find out” and to explain how our company team supports new agents. It is relatively easy to turn what might have been an uncomfortable negative situation into a strength that actually benefits the client.

So the thing to do, especially when just getting started in the business, is to focus the client upon the strength of the company that you are a part of rather then just on your individual skills or experience. If you have confidence in your company and the people available to support you and answer questions for you, that confidence will show through in your presentations in front of clients. If you find that you really don’t have that support structure in your company, maybe you’re in the wrong company.

Happy Holidays to all!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

There's good news and bad news in the chart...

It's feels like the market is comng back in the Milford, Michigan market area and there are statstics to prove that. When I recently went to the Altos Research site to look at the charts that they create for the markets that they track, I got the following chart for median home sale values and inventory for Milford Township and Village combined -

Real Estate Market Chart by Altos Research

It's pretty easy to see that there is good news and bad news in this chart and that perhaps one is actually causing the other.

The bad news is that inventory has fallen off a cliff. People just aren't listing right now, mainly because so many are so far underwater on their mortgages.

As a result, there's good news - median home prices for homes that have sold are soaring. It's a classic supply and demand situation. The demand for homes in the Milford community remains strong, but there are few to choose from, so the few good ones that are on the market are getting bid up.

That's good news if you've been waiting to sell. Values won't recover all of the lost 30-40% that they lost over the last 3-4 years; however, they have started a nice recovery and they are headed in the right direction. If you have a nice home, in good condition, now is a great time to list. There is obviously less competition and there will not be continued downward price pressure. In fact, you may end up on the winning end of a bidding war situation.

Just in the statistics that I track at, I can see the turn around. Prices in the Milford market were down below $90/Sq Ft for a while. Now they are back near $100/Sq Ft. That's still a far cry from the $140/Sq Ft average during the peak, but gettign closer to the long term average that we had achieved befoer the market overheated. A steady-state market in the $105 - $125/Sq Ft range is within reason and probably sustainable in this area.

Hope for Help in HARP 2.0

I suppose I’m a little like Linus sitting in the pumpkin patch on Halloween nioght awaiting the coming of The Great Pumpkin; however, I still have hope that at least one Federal program might end up doing some good for the housing industry – perhaps HARP 2.0.

The original Home Affordable Refinance Program, aka. HARP 1 – was a failure mainly because it failed to recognize the severity of the problem and had too many built in restrictions that limited the number of underwater homeowners who could qualify. HARP 2.0 lowered or removed those bars and should end up helping more homeowners. At least that’s the goal.

The major idea is to let homeowners who’s home values have sunk below what they owe on their old mortgages refinance with new loans at lower rates, even if the home wouldn’t appraise at the loan value in today’s market. In fact, the house won’t even ned to be re-appraised. The keys to the program are demonstrating the ability to continue to pay the new mortgage. You’ll note the “continue to pay” phrase. HARP 2.0 is aimed at people who have kept their current mortgages current, not those who are behind and headed for foreclosure. HARP 2.0 hopes to prevent foreclosures by providing some payment relief to those who have struggled but kept up payments, so far.

One key component to HARP 2.0 is that the mortgage on your house must be owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, which covers the majority of U.S. mortgages. Even if you send your money to another company called the ”mortgage servicer”, Fannie or Freddie may be in the background for your mortgage. To find out if your home qualifies, you can to go their Web sites – or and look up your address.

The program should be available now through most mortgage companies, so check with your preferred lender. If they aren’t supporting the program, check with a different lender.

So, maybe it’s not the Great Pumpkin after all; but, maybe it will help keep a few more homeowners who are struggling in this weak economy in their homes.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Taken’ it to the max in Texas…

You gotta love this story out of Tarrant County, Texas, as relesed by The Associated Press and rehashed in the Daily Realtor Magazine news feed.

Squatters in Texas are taking advantage of a loophole in state laws in Texas to move into $Million+ mansions. According to the story written by Yamil Berard which appeared on the Star-Telegram Web site on December 4, Texas state law allows squatters to claim property if no owner is around to challenge them. Texas squatters are apparently targeting vacant properties where owners have died or home owners are away because of a job or even illness. The story referrenced one incident in Houston, in which squatters threw away the owner’s belongings in a commercial garbage bin and moved in while the home owner was having chemotherapy (probably in a hospital).

According to the article. the laws in Texas allow a person to file a claim of adverse possession on the properties with the county clerk., much as one might do on a piece of disputed land or right-of-way in most states. The filing fee is a modest $16 and the filer must sign a pledge to keep the place up to pay property taxes and to live there for at least three years. Heck, why not, it's free!

Perhaps Texas, rather than California, is leading the nation this time on the housing front. What a great opportunity to solve the homelessness problem. Basically, if ever state had laws like Texas, the homeless could not only find housing, but they could live in the lap of luxury by squatting in vacant mansions.
Of course, we’d likely have to change the real estate model a bit. Maybe we could become “spotters” for vacant properties for some sort of fee. We’d have a list of homeless people (or maybe just people looking for a move up the real estate ladder) that we could keep an eye out for vacant homes. Apparently in Texas the owners don’t have to be gone that long, just gone and not around to contest the occupancy of their property. So, we could be on the look-out for people going on vacation and, BAM! We move a new family right into the house while they are vacationing on a cruise.

You’ve got to love the state that gave us George W. Bush and, now Rick Perry. In this case they are so far ahead of the rest of us in solving the housing problem for all Americans. Heck, this would even let us recapture the glory days of the early 2000’s – no money, no job, no problem, let us find you a place to squat. We could even run ads modeled upon the Publishers Clearing House ads - "Be on the lookout for the Squat Patrol coming to your neighborhood soon."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

An idea that is finally catching on...

I noted this week, with some amusement, that Realty Times featured an article by Tanya Marchiol, who is said to be a real estate investing guru, which espoused the same Principal Reduction solution that I've been writing about for some time. Perhaps the idea will gain traction, now that a guru is behind it, too.

Tanya does a good job of explaining why investors should be jumping on the Principal Reduction bandwagon and why the banks and other mortgage servicers are holding them back. It's all about the money involved - the fees that the servicers are charging, which is much more if they can ride a property into foreclosure than they would be if the loan were redone to include a principal reduction or even in a short sale. She also re-stated a point that I made in my earlier posts that the banks can certainly afford to take the accounting hits on these underwater loans.

Until this issue is addressed we will continue to have a slow (in some placed stalled) real estate market. The people out at the end of these bad mortgages are the only ones in the chain who can't afford to take the financial hit. So, they are holding on to underwater properties, locked into place by the very mortgage products that were made to look, oh, so attractive a few years back.

Tanya did note that the lack of action in Washington towards this solution is also driven by money - campaign contributions to the major parties and politicians - to guarantee that nothing is done to endanger those fees. It will likely take an uprising of the people even larger that the Occupy Wall Street movement to ween our politicians from the teats of the big money banks.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fund raisers for a unique food pantry…

This is a time of the year when there are numerous fund raising activities going on. There are a couple of fundraising activities in the local Huron Valley area that are particularly worthy of note because of the unique charity that they support.

Our area, like most areas in the country these days, has quite a few families who are dealing with hardship and are unable to properly feed the family. We are blessed to have the Community Sharing Outreach Center Food Pantry in Highland to help those families with free food. Carolyn and I always ask the attendees at our annual Real Estate One Christmas party to bring food to donate to the Food Pantry and always have several bags to take in after the party.

Some time ago the people at Community Sharing noticed that some of their supported families were sharing what little they had with their family pets, because they couldn’t afford to feed them either. So, the Community Sharing people started a Pet Food Pantry, which they believe is unique in MIchigan and maybe in the country. Local vets and pet owners in the community immediately began supporting the effort to help feed family pets. Peter Barnes and Julie Hass, owners of Veterinary Care Specialists became especially committed to seeing this effort succeed and have spearheaded a couple of local fund raising efforts.

A committee was formed to create a calendar for 2012 that features the pets of local business owners, each of whom donated to have their pets featured in the calendar. Carlos Allison of The Digital Document Store in Milford donated the printing of the calendar and several merchants agreed to carry the calendar. All of the proceeds from the sale of the calendar go directly to support the Community Sharing Pet Food Pantry. Calendars are $6 each or $5 apiece for 10 or more.

The next fund raiser is upcoming – getting your pet’s picture taken with Santa. This event will be held on Dec 3rd and the 10th at the Pettibone Creek Powerhouse, aka. the Milford Powerhouse, at 225 West Liberty St in Milford (Google Map that, so you can find it). This event is also sponsored by Veterinary Care Specialists and supported by Friends of the Powerhouse. For a donation of pet food or cash, you’ll get a nice picture of your pet with Santa and the digital file of that picture. You can take that picture file to The Digital Document Store (DDS) in Milford and they’ll turn it into Christmas cards for you to send out. DDS owner, Carlos Allison, will donate 10% of the proceeds from each specially priced card printing order to the Pet Food Pantry.

To find out more about the Pet Calendar and the Santa Paws pictures with Santa event
s, visit my web site – – and click on the pictures for both on the right hand side of the home page.

If you’d like to support this worthy and unique cause, please send donations to Community Sharing Outreach Center, PO Box 405, Highland, Michigan 48357. Let them know if your donation is for the Pet Food Pantry only and let them know that you heard about it here and/or on my Move to Milford web site. If you are local, buy a calendar at any of these locations and then plan on getting your pet’s picture taken with Santa on the 3rd or 19th of December – it’s fun and supports a great cause.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Try a little empathy...

“Wise sayings often fall on barren ground, but a kind word is never thrown away.” (Sir Arthur Help) from the Jack’s Winning Words Blog.

How often have you heard a Realtor spout off about their real estate knowledge and experience when all that the would-be seller is looking for at the time is a kind word about the situation that is forcing the sale?

In today’s market, in many parts of the country, expressing some empathy and sympathy with short sellers or foreclosed clients is more helpful than spouting off a list of certifications and experience with distressed sales. The Realtor will get the chance to prove the value of that training later. For the moment, trying a little understanding and kindness when dealing with these situations seems to be the better approach.

Let’s face it, these sales are almost always off on the wrong foot already; and, statistically, the prospect for actually making the short sale before the place is foreclosed is below 50%. A long, frustrating process lies ahead, so taking the time on the front-end to establish a relationship based upon understanding and empathy is a much better start. The seller not only needs someone to sell their house, they often need someone to commiserate with, too.

In fact, many of the calls that I get about these situations result in only the one meeting. We determine during that meeting if trying a short-sale is even worth the effort. Sometimes things are too far gone and the fporeclosure process is already well underway. In those cases, having a good cry and then facing up to the need to move on when the foreclosure process has run its course is the best that the owner can do. Whether the owner can proceed to try a short-sale or not, having a meeting with a Realtor and getting a good assessment of their situation is worthwhile. At least they will have a better understanding of the process that they are facing and the options that they may still have.

So, give me a call. We'll meet. We'll talk. We may have a good cry. Maybe we'll pray about it. In the end, you'll know where you stand, what your options are, and that someone else cares.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Nibbling at the bullet and letting Citigroup off the hook…

The new HARP 2.0 rules that go into effect soon are certainly helpful for many homeowners who wan to stay in their homes, but who would like to refinance at current low mortgage rates; however, they do little to actually stimulate the housing market. The big bullet that is yet to be bitten is getting the banks to swallow the lost housing equity in this market and free up more homes for sale.

I’ve seen a number of proposals that hinge on getting the government more involved in the process. Most of them have the government ending up owning the homes temporarily and then eating the losses. To my way of thinking this is just a way to disguise yet another bailout of the big banks. They got themselves into this mess with their loose (some might even say reckless) mortgage lending practices and their greedy practices of monetizing the loans in pools of investment bonds. They need to feel the pain of those mistakes, perhaps by cutting out the outrageous bonuses that they hand out to the very clowns that got them into the mess in the first place.

I read yesterday in this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek that Citigroup has recently been handed yet another sweetheart settlement deal by the SEC regulators. Citigroup agreed to a settlement of $285 Million in an SEC complaint that they knowingly created and sold to investors a complex financial instrument based loosely upon earlier Citigroup mortgage pool bonds. Basically it was a bet on a bet. The thing that the SEC alleged is that the Citigroup people not only knew that this was a sucker bet (it was designed to fail), but they also put their money on the failure – they bet against their own investment. Of course it did fail; however, from the fees and winning bet on its failure Citigroup made as much as $700 Million.

If true (which Citigroup did not have to admit in the sweetheart deal with the SEC) I’d certainly like to know where this betting window is. It’s like being able to enter a nag in the Kentucky Derby, talking up its chances to drive up the betting line, betting against it and winning big when the nag loses. So what if you get fined $285 Million, if you made $700 Million? That is, after all, capitalism at its finest.

How are these things related? Well they both have home mortgages at their core. Both illustrate the government casting about for answers or direction, yet unwilling to take on the corporate corruption that is at the center of much of the mess that we are in. Government at its most basic level is supposed to represent the governed – the people. Our system has devolved to the point where it represents those who can afford to buy the attention of the politicians – special interest groups (who most often bully rather than buy that attention) and wealthy corporations. They are too big to fail or too loud to ignore. In either case their voices and demands most often drown out the voices of regular people.

Given the place where we are at right now, there is little hope that real solutions to the current housing crisis are forthcoming from Washington. Instead, we will likely see the slow process of correction play out in the form of continued high foreclosure rates and short sales. The only group that apparently is not too big to allow to fail in the eyes of our politicians is that group mentioned in the front of the U.S. Constitution, “We the people…”

Monday, November 14, 2011

How does life strike you?

“Happiness depends more on how life strikes you than on what happens.” (Andy Rooney) from the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

I liked Andy Rooney, even if he was considered to be a curmudgeon; and I certainly agree with this quote from him. Stuff happens, some of it good and some of it bad; and, it’s how you perceive things (how it strikes you) that makes the difference in life. If you are the laid-back type, who can role with the punches that life doles out; you’ll probably be around to see many more of them that the type that fights and rants and rages at every adversity.

My wife and I kid all the time about me being a laid back kind of guy (which I am not). Just her poking me about a rant that I might be on helps me stop and relax a bit and see the humor in the situation. Sometimes you have to look really hard to see any good or humor in a particular situation. And sometimes the most humorous thing to see is yourself on a rant about something meaningless that you can’t change anyway.

As I get older I’m getting better at controlling my reactions to things that I can’t control anyway. Perhaps that is one of the secrets of life or at least of prolonging life. So, be happy and see the humor in life.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Entering the slow season off a lull...

Recently, the NAR chief economist, Lawrence Yun, said the housing market is being excessively constrained. “A combination of weak consumer confidence and continuing tight lending criteria held back home buyers…” Yun was commenting on the reports that pending homes sale declined in September, down 4.6 percent from the month prior, even though they are up year-over-year as compared to September of 2010.

The report indicated that the largest decline was seen in the Midwest, which fell 6.2 percent for the month. The South and Northeast were a close second and third, falling 5.5 and 4.7, respectively. The West held up the best in pending sales for September, declining only 2.1 percent.

Yun cited the usual suspects – tight lending practices and buyer fears about the economy – as well as the confusing U.S. monetary policies and Fed actions that have actually served to hurt the market by lowering the lending limits before jumbo rates are imposed.

Finally, and certainly no surprise, he cited uncertainty about employment and the stubbornly high unemployment rate as another factor. The old “no job, no problem” lending days are long gone, seemingly replaced by the new attitude of lenders – “good job, so what – show me the money.” Lenders are demanding higher down payments and certainly much more documentation about a buyer’s wherewithal.

One thing that he didn’t cite is that the seller side is contributing to the problem, too. So many homeowners are underwater that the normal flow of homes into the inventory pool from people who want to move has just about dried up (at least in this area). These are people who would normally be selling to downsize in retirement or perhaps selling to take a new job or maybe even selling to move up the housing ladder. They are all stuck right now; so, they are selling or buying. The lack of good, move-in-ready inventory from those types of sellers is also restricting the market by giving would-be buyers much less to choose from.

The Fed seems to be casting about looking for ways to help get the housing market re-energized, but to little avail so far. A part of the reason is that they are also trying to keep their buddies in the banking industry whole. Remember that these are the clowns who created the free-lending environment and the monetized pools of mortgages that helped precipitate the housing bubble and subsequent crash. Just about everything from raw bail outs to new lending programs are still designed to protect those same bankers/investors. After all, they make the big campaign contributions and as John Arbuckle used to say, “You get what you pay for.”

One simple way to kick start the housing market, and likely help the economy overall in the long run, would be to force the banks/investors to write down the lost value of the loans that they are holding and refinance at the current value. Right now they are holding those loans on their books as assets at the old value of the loan. That equity value is gone for them and the homeowners involved.

Currently it’s a standoff between the homeowners and the banks to see who blinks first. Most of the time it’s the homeowner who blinks, because he either has to sell or can’t afford to service the loan at the old value. Only then does the bank “recognize the loss”, which is has known about all along. There are avenues available through regulations or changes in accounting practices that could force the banks to recognize those losses now and let everyone get on with life. Would that be painful? Yes. Does it have to be catastrophic? No. There are ways through bank capital requirements policy and federal tax policy that those losses could be softened for the banks. Yes, they would still be losses and the banks are fighting to avoid that with all of their lobbying money.

So, as we enter the Holiday season, which generally signals a slowdown in real estate business, we are faced with another season where a lump of coal is al lthat is slated to show up in our stockings. It doesn’t have to be that way, but first we’ve got to get mean old Mr. Scrooge (the banks) turned around somehow. Anybody know any good ghosts?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

October is in the books...

I finalized the local area sales report for October last night and published the figures on my Web site , so another month in 2011 is in the books. It “felt” like October was dong a little better as we were going through it, so I decided to look back and see how it compared to September of this year and also compare it to October of 2010. I would look at August numbers too, except that August is a “last minute rush” sales month as people try to get into houses before school starts.

The sales for three of the townships that I track were as follows:

Milford –

October 2011:

20 sales (45% distressed), with an average sale price of $180,990, at an average price of $85/Sq Ft

September 2011:

14 sales (43% distressed), with an average sale price of $174,815, at an average price of $93/Sq Ft

October 2010:

14 sales (36% distressed), with an average sale price of $188,366, at an average price of $86/Sq Ft

I didn’t keep the same statistics back before 2010; however, I did keep enough to be able to discern the number of sales in Milford in October for the last few years – 19 sales in 2009, 18 in 2008 and 11 in 2007.

So, perhaps the feeling that things are getting better has merit. Sales are up in Milford, even if a significant portion of them involve distressed homes. That is just an unfortunate fact of life these days.

Highland –

October 2011:

20 sales (50% distressed), with an average sale price of $160,303, at an average of $78/Sq Ft

September 2011:

32 sales (37% distressed), with an average sale price of $180,575, at an average of $91/Sq Ft.

October 2010:

11 sales (55% distressed), with an average sale price of $114,036, at an average price of $81/Sq Ft

So, Highland is doing significantly better than last year; although sales were down a bit from September of this year.

Commerce –

October 2011:

33 sales (52% distressed), with an average sale price of $172,916, at an average price of $84/Sq Ft.

September 2011:

44 sales (42% distressed), with an average sale price of $203,000, at an average of $98/Sq Ft

October 2010:

29 sales (45% distressed), with an average sale price of $187,220, at and average of $74/Sq Ft.

So sales cooled a bit in Commerce Township from September to October for this year, but did better year over year as compared to last year.

To see all of the statistics for these and the other 6 townships that I track, go to my Move to Milford web site and click on the “What has sold in the area” choice.

Although the statistics that I tracked changed over the years, there is sales data there going back 4 years for some of the markets.

Monday, October 31, 2011

New feature - follow by email

I've received many requests for an easy way to follow this blog, so I added a "Follow by Email" gadget at the top of the blog. As I understand it, once you click on that you'll be asked for an email address and you should start receiving emails whenever I post a new blog entry. I hope this helps those who want to follow along my life's journey in real estate (and other things in my life).

Now, I'll have to come up with some more intersting topics to write about. Today I also received notice of a new Blog by the Capital Title folks which I've signed up for at -
This should be a good source of information about real estate title issues and the changing face of real estate from that perspective.

By the way, I'll be posting the sales statistics for October for the 9 township markets that I track on my MoveToMilford Web site tomorrow. I actual already have it updated through Sunday, but with today being the last day of the month, I expect that there will be a flurry of closing activity today, which I'll add in tomorrow.

Here's a little bit that I wrote for my paper-based newsletter -

We appear to be experiencing what someone has dubbed to be a “Catfish Recovery” in the local housing market. We are bouncing along the bottom—up one week and down the next—however the general trend is in the upward direction.

A recent market study of the Village of Milford market for starter homes, done by local appraiser Glen Betts of 1st In Michigan Real Estate Appraisal Services— looked at the sales data for starter homes in the Village over the last five years. What Glen’s research showed is a market that has had almost monthly ups and downs, but which has been on an upward trajectory since January of 2009.

You may recall that January of 2009 is the month that the First Time Buyer Tax Credit expired. It is also the month in which the bottom dropped out of the market for the last time in this recession. It was the low point, at least for the Village of Milford starter home market. Since that time the market has bumped up and down but always following a fairly traditional overall appreciation curve.
Thanks to Glen for his research on this and his study report. You can see his study at my web site, under the Local Real Estate Statistics choice. His study confirms what we’ve been seeing in the market—ups and downs in the local townships markets, but generally trending in an upward direction. It may be an ugly recovery, but it’s a start back.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Investing in Detroit

The city of Detroit is ripe with opportunity. A current and momentary lack of liquidity in the mortgage market has created unprecedented market conditions. Investors are dictating acquisition prices while rent levels stay constant. The result of these factors is above average rental yields with the potential for long term capital appreciation. One can acquire a fully renovated property in this market for 25% of what it once traded for. A well informed investor will understand the phenomenal opportunity in this market because of a unified and strategic effort of revitalization of key neighborhoods by the city, state, and federal governments.

In Detroit's heyday it was second only to New York in terms of population growth, wealth, etc. Its infrastructure was built for a population at that time of 2MM people. There are only 800,000 people living in Detroit at this time. The population has slowly gravitated towards more stable neighborhood "pockets" however there are still many people who are living in areas where homes are boarded up, burnt out, or falling down. These are homes that were thrown up because of the city's significant growth in a short period of time due to an economy fueled by the automotive and manufacturing sectors creating a boom period in the areas like Detroit. Many of these "shotgun" homes were stick built; frame styled and only built to last 50 years or so. They are not viable anymore. These are the homes that you can find on an internet auction for $1k. Not worth buying though.

Many banks and institutional organizations who have been forced to become property owners do not see the differences in stable areas and not so stable areas. They see an address on a balance sheet and “write-off” great homes because of negative perceptions based on zip codes. By taking advantage of what you could say is a glitch in the banking world's accounting and strategically acquiring in the best neighborhoods, you are in essence insuring future capital appreciation because as the city's infrastructure shrinks around certain core neighborhoods, the values in the areas will only appreciate.

One company that is taking the lead in this area of investing in Detroit is Precise - Properties of Detroit. Visit their web site for more information about their investment programs for Detroit real estate.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

MIchigan Treasurer says Fannie and Freddie must pay...

In Michigan , as I’m sure may be the case in many other states, the GSE’s Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were exempt from paying some of the local taxes imposed by counties on the transfer of real estate properties. The GSE’s claimed the exemption under the widely held theory that Federal Governmental bodies cannot be subjected to local taxes.
In a recent ruling, the Michigan Department of Treasury was asked by certain registers of deeds whether particular entities, such as Fannie Mae, were subject to the county and state real estate transfer tax. On October 4, 2011, the Treasury advised the Emmet County Register of Deeds that the answer was yes – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as sellers of real estate in Michigan, must pay county and state transfer tax.

Apparently, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had previously avoided paying both county and state transfer tax relying on an exemption in both those statutes for “written instruments which this state is prohibited from taxing under the constitution or statutes of the United States.” In its letter, Treasury indicated that federal law generally prohibits the taxation of these entities by state and local governments. However, Treasury has concluded that the real estate transfer tax is not a tax on real property, but instead is an excise tax on the instrument that is being recorded. Thus, the Treasury concludes that government sponsored entities, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not exempt from real estate transfer tax.

The law provides that a seller is responsible for payment of county and state transfer taxes. However, a seller can contractually agree to have a buyer assume that obligation. Generally, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac use addendums which impose all liability for transfer tax on buyers. Thus, in pending purchases for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, buyers most likely will now need to deal with a new obligation, i.e., payment of county and state transfer tax as reflected on the HUD-1.

This ruling does not apply to HUD, so sales of HUD-owned hoes will still be exempt from paying the transfer taxes.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Does every deal have to be a struggle?

I was so happy 45 days ago to finally get a “regular sale”, a sale that I even thought would be an easy sale. I have a buyer who has a great credit score and who is putting about ½ down on the property and I still am have headaches getting this sale through the ubiquitous and mysterious “underwriters.” I’m not even sure that we’ll close next week as planned.

What has happened to make this process so hard that even good buyers on good sales of good properties is a major pain in the behind? I know it drives the loan officers mad too and they end up tearing out their hair trying to meet all of the requirements of the dreaded underwriters. Underwriters must belong to the same secret society as the oft sited “investor” that sits behind the scenes in short sales and foreclosures.

I keep getting the story that all of the banks have dramatically increased the documentation requirements and have instituted multiple layers of review for everything. They have turned a process that a couple of years back could have been accomplished in 15-30 days into a 45-60 day nightmare. OK, so maybe mistakes made during the 15-30 day era also led to the home value meltdown debacle; however, that is no reason to clamp down so tight that would-be borrowers are strangled out of the market.

I suspect that part of the problem is educational – both for real estate reps and home buyers. Neither group has received much information about the new rules and requirements, so both are still operating under old assumptions about the process and the timetables involved. However, a bigger issue may be that the process has shifted from being customer service oriented (towards the borrower) to being protect-the-investor-at-all-costs oriented. Underlying all of that is an unspoken “buyer be damned” attitude. Apparently all buyers are now viewed as untrustworthy by the underwriters. If they have cash for a down payment they have to prove that it’s not from some money laundering scheme or, heaven forbid, a gift from mom or dad.

The new reality is apparently that 60 days is the new 30 days for non-distressed sales. For distressed sales – foreclosures and short sales – we all pretty much know that there are no rules – it could be 90 days, it could be 9 months. Patience beyond that required for Sainthood is the norm for them.

Like any system that is still seeking a new equilibrium, the mortgage process has now overshot on the over cautious side and needs to come back towards some middle ground. That may not require abandoning any of the new documentation requirements, those are probably a good thing; however, the review and approval and move the paperwork along parts of the process need some attention, as does the lack of transparency in the entire process. It seems to me that he underwriters also need to be refocused upon customer service to the borrowers and not just concern for the interests of the investor.
 We need a process for regular sales that is more transparent, easier to understand and explain and closer to the old 30 days to close model. Otherwise, the underwriters are going to evolve to be the undertakers of our business.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Old institutions and ideas in our lives dying out...

It seems that all around us things that we (or at least I) grew up with and thought would last are withering away, losing influence or in some cases disappearing altogether. This includes institutions like the U.S. Postal Service and the original Big-3s of our youth – GM, Ford and Chrysler in the automotive world and CBS, NBC and ABC – the original Big-3 networks – in the entertainment world. Certainly Borders bookstores come to mind around here, as does the Summit Place Mall in Pontiac and home delivery of newspapers seven days a week.

Some would say that this is just progress – a natural progression of things in life – as new technologies and new lifestyles lead people to different products and different ways of spending their time. I guess that is true. Still one can miss some of the things that are gone or no longer hold sway in our lives. Do I miss the personal interaction with the teller inside the bank to stop using the drive-up or the ATM? I guess not and I seldom think about it any more.

One quaint idea from our past that I miss somewhat is the concept of retirement. I grew up in the era where you worked hard for 30-40-50 years and then you got to retire. They gave you the ceremonial gold watch, had a retirement party for you and off you went into your so-called Golden Years with your pension in hand; your comfort and security guaranteed by the company retirement plan.

Well that sure didn’t work out the way I thought it might. The companies that I worked for most of my career shifted everyone to a lump sum payout retirement plan and then ended up laying most off anyway when they were bought out by other companies that had no retirement plans either. So, now it appears that I’m in a fairly large group of somewhat older Americans for whom the concept of ever retiring is, as Ernie Harwell might have put it, “Long Gone.”

That’s a shame for several reasons, not the lease of which is that older workers having to hang on to their jobs longer means less opportunity for younger workers who are just starting out. It has also impacted the housing industry, with fewer people making the shift to retirement homes and the travel industry as fewer older people have the money to travel as they thought they might when they retired.

I suppose that the good news in all of this is that many older workers didn’t want to retire in the first place. It turned out to be really boring for many and they often returned to the workforce in some capacity after having burned themselves out on endless rounds of golf or on trips to places that didn’t turn out to all that great. I have often heard from really old people who are being interviewed about the secret to their long lives that continuing to work every day was what kept them going. I’ll have to admit that I’d be bored silly if I didn’t have the jobs that keep me occupied right now.

So, I guess I’ll just roll with the punches, jump on as many of the new technology bandwagons as I can and shift my focus from the old media to the new while I continue to get up and go to work everyday. The alternative, it seems to me, is much worse. I guess as life goes on one might be best served by remembering a recent popular motto attributed to the Navy Seals - Deal With It.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In the middle is good…

I get lots of real estate news feeds. There always seems to be stories about the Top 10 this or that. There’s usually at least one a week about the 10 worst real estate markets and maybe one about the Top-10 real estate recovery markets.

For the longest time the Detroit area market seemed to make every story about dismal markets. Then places in Nevada and California and Florida took over those positions. We haven’t consistently made the Top-10 good markets stories yet; but it feels good to be mired somewhere in the middle and not making as much news anymore.

Like many places, Michigan is seeing an inconsistent market right now. We have townships that are doing well right next to townships that are still seeing far too many short sales and foreclosure sales. Those sales are driving business volume and many companies like the one I work for are reporting strong year-over-year unit volume, albeit with lower dollar volumes in most cases.

Our inventory level is down and still dropping, which is an indicator that too many people are still underwater on their mortgages and don’t feel like they can afford to sell. The low-end category – under $100K – is still the best selling housing category; although the luxury end has held its own, too. Apparently the “trickle-down” economic theories don’t apply to real estate; because our mid-market is virtually frozen.

Still, it’s good to be in the middle and not being the subject of articles and press releases. We actually got some good press in the last Case-Schiller Report, with positive home value growth showing up for the Detroit-area market for first time in years.

Now if we can just get something good going on the jobs front (hint, hint Congress), we seem to be poised for a housing recovery locally. We appear to be in what someone dubbed a “catfish recovery” – bouncing along the bottom of this recession and bottom feeding on distressed home sales. We need to get the fish jumping out of the water again. Until then, being in the middle of the pack is good.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The two faces of a schizophrenic housing industry…

Four stories in last Friday’s Realtor Magazine Online news feed provided a somewhat schizophrenic view of the housing industry. The first reported that The national Association of Home Builders says that 23 major markets across the US showed improvements improvement in housing permits, employment, and housing prices over the last six months. Great News!

The second story reported that fixed, 30-year mortgage rates are now below 4% - the lowest that they’ve been in years. More good news for housing, right?

Story three however reported that fully 30% of all mortgage apps are being turned down these days. The last story reported (to no one’s surprise) that homeownership is sinking fast and is on a downward pace not seen since the great depression.

Of course, when one reads the stories one finds that housing improvements are taking place in some areas that have had near-death experiences. And even though the rates are low, mortgages are being rejected for reasons such as bad credit or no job – reasons that were not sufficient to reject mortgages just a short while ago. And as for home ownership, the story reports that young unemployed people are the least likely to own a home – well duh!

Home ownership hit its peak at about 70% during the Clinton and Bush years when home ownership programs by both of those Presidents encouraged the lending behavior that eventually led to the housing bubble and the bust. It is now down to 65.1% and falling fast, according to the latest census information.

The biggest issue right now seems to be the falling and/or low inventory in many areas, due in large part to so many current home mortgages being underwater. We are a long way from a balanced market, but not just due to tighter credit. The same would-be sellers who can’t afford to put their homes on the market used to be our move-up buyers or they are the boomers that we expected to be selling, so they could downsize in retirement.

Now those would-be sellers are stuck and even those with real stories of hardship are finding the road to short sales blocked by incompetent and understaffed lenders who are incapable of making simple selling decisions. Adding to the confusion is the back-end mess created by the pooling and selling of mortgages to investors, which could take decades to clear up or get off the books.

So are things good bad or just ugly right now. I’d vote for ugly. It’s a great time to buy a house, if you have a down payment and can get a mortgage and if there is something on the market that you might like. Those are big ifs right now. It’s actually also a good time to sell a house (due to the low inventory) if you aren’t underwater on it. Don’t even think about waiting until next year to see if the lost value will magically come back – it ain’t gonna happen. AS Dr. Phil might say to would be sellers, “It’s time to get real.”

And what about Realtors® in this market? I listen to them at social gatherings telling prospective clients that things are great, that they’ve never been busier. That’s true. Most Realtors in this area are working their tails off, many selling more homes than they’ve ever sold… and making less money at it that they ever made. It’s a schizophrenic business to be in and we’re all lovin’ it and hating it or both.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thinking beyond the headlines and reading between the lines…

Today’s Realtor Magazine news feed had four headlines (among others) that caught my attention. On the surface they seem to be innocuous little articles, but when you read the stories and think about what is being said or suggested they bring some further thoughts to mind.

1. Housing Can Be 'Key Engine of Job Growth' – This story is basically about the National Association of Home Builders lamenting the fact that credit has tightened up so much that they aren’t build houses. They are claiming, as one might expect that if the current credit crunch were eased the housing industry might be able to lead the country out of its economic doldrums.

I’m not sure that this isn’t one of those chicken or egg conundrums and is certainly is a view that is way to simplistic. Even if there was credit available to build and maybe even to buy there is still a fear factor hovering over potential buyers that is driven more by job concerns.

It’s prophetic that the story that this Realtor Magazine article is based upon is titled “Do not harm…” and makes the argument that many of the Federal housing and homeowner bailout programs so far have not followed that caution. They have, in fact caused more problems (harm) than they have helped.

2. Bill May Help Home Owners Tap Retirement Accounts – This story really has some really bad possible future consequences that are not pointed out. On the surface it sounds initially like the right thing to do to let people use their retirement savings without a withdrawal penalty, which is its big benefit) to fund their current mortgage obligations. Sounds reasonable initially, but, you don’t have to think about it for long to see that allowing (even encouraging) them to strip retirement accounts now just means that they will be standing there a few years from now, hat in hand, asking what we’re going to do to help them out in retirement. It seems to me that it might be better to encourage distressed homeowners to bite the bullet now and downsize into a situation that they can afford, without decimating what little savings they have.

3. Lawsuit Accuses Banks of Cheating Veterans – This story is about practices that are so wrong on so many levels that these banks ought to have the book thrown at them. It is no surprise that the biggest three mentioned in the story were Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo. These are the same big-3 that are front and center in most of the other current cases and law suits over wrong doing and possible fraud.

Perhaps this time they’ve finally dug a hole that they can buy their way out of with political contributions. All 30 of the banks referenced in this investigation need to be punished big-time if these allegations are proven. No wrist slapping this time, get out the big paddle and head for the outhouse.

If there’s one thing that I don’t want to see it’s yet another Senate or Congressional committee hearing were the CEOs of the big banks are dragged in for a public flogging and then walk away whole. That is just political theater designed to give each political hack their 5-10 minutes of TV exposure. It would be appropriate if those hearings are held to just use cardboard cut-outs of the big bank CEOs sitting at the table.

4. More Kids Turn to Parents for Mortgage Help – This bank of mom and dad story would fall into the cute category if it weren’t for the same issue as the Retirement Accounts story above. In this case it’s the kids who are asking mom and dad to strip their savings (many times their retirement savings) so that they can get a house before they can really afford one. Obviously the same issues will eventually come up, except in this case at least mom and dad should be able to move into the nice home that they helped junior or princess buy with their retirement money. Just make sure they get that extra bedroom or in-laws suite.

This is something that retirement planners and financial advisors all usually advise against (unless mom and dad have lots and lots of money). It’s also something that, while well meaning, can add so much tension to the family situation that family breakups might result.

I’ve put the links below to the source stories upon which Realtor Magazine based their articles.

1. Based upon Do no harm…

2. Based upon an article at Housingwire…

3. Based upon a Washington Post article…

4. Based upon an article in USA Today…

Saturday, October 1, 2011

OMG another dumb real estate euphemism…

In the land of euphemisms the new real estate term “Reverse Staging” may rank up there close to the top of the rankings of obfuscous language.
What is reverse staging and how does one do it? Well, it is a polite euphemism for destroying your own house to decrease its value. It basically means that some people de-content their own homes and possibly even cause physical damage to them in an attempt to lower the appraised value for purposes of supporting a short sale.

The reason why people do this is obvious to all, including the banks involved; so it is viewed (correctly) as a form of fraud. The reason why someone in the real estate business decided to come up with this term to somehow make what is happening sound less sinister is less obvious. It’s just people destroying their own homes, just like vandals would. Why call it anything else?
I suppose that one could legally reverse stage one’s own house by substituting lower value light fixtures or making other changes to try to lower the perceived value, without causing damage; however, good appraisers, or good BPO writers, will be able to see past those weak efforts.

So, add yet another obscure term to the real estate lexicon. I guess we need terms like reverse staging to impress the general public that we somehow know and understand things that are going on in real estate better than they do.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Channeling Houdini...

Well, it seems that my new dog Sadie is channeling Harry Houdini, the great escape artist. She managed to escape and disappear twice yesterday.

The first time she slipped out of her collar while on her dog run and, well, ran. We searched for over two hours and couldn’t find her. That’s because we live in a small town with friendly, helpful and well-meaning people. A lady on her way home from work found her wandering about two blocks from our house in the downtown Milford area and picked her up. The lady took her out to a local vet clinic that is about 4 miles north of town.

I would never have looked out there or thought to call there, but I did finally think to call the local police and asked if they had any lost dog sightings. Sure enough they had, since the vet had called them to report a found dog that fit Sadie’s description. We went to pick her up and had her “chipped” while we were there. Now she has a microchip that most vets have scanners to read. That chip will give them a number that will allow them to contact me. I suspect that this will be money well spent.

So, anyway, I next went out and bought one of those dog halters that look to be much harder to get out of and put it on her. Less than an hour later she slipped out of that while on her overhead run and was off again. This time my wife, while our looking for her, encountered a couple who were driving around looking for her someone who might be missing a dog. They had her in their van. She is so freindly that she'll hop in with anyone. Again she was picked up less than two blocks from home.

Now she has both the halter and a collar, both tightened up snuggly and attached to each other. If I did much more, she’d end up looking like Hannibal Lecter when they transported him from prison in the movie”Silence of the Lambs”. I don’t even know if they make little, doggy straight jackets or not; but, I’m resolved not to end up pushing Sadie around on a furniture dolly like Hannibal.

So, lesson learned today. Sadie is a cutie, but she’s also a hound and hounds like to escape and run away. They aren’t so much running away as just running – on a scent or just out of curiosity. We’ll have to watch her like a hawk when she’s out on her run.

She also showed her true (hound) colors when we encountered a particularly annoying squirrel today on one of our walks. I didn’t know that dogs could climb trees, but she sure tried. It didn’t

help that the squirrel took great sport in coming back down the tree a ways to taunt her. If I thought she’d come back I’d let her off to really chase some of the pesky squirrels that we have around here. I have no dou
bt that she fast enough to catch a few of them.

I guess we’ll need to schedule a few more trips to the bark park to let her run off some of this energy. Like a human baby, she’s at her cutest when she’s curled up asleep on the bed. So, Sadie, Sadie, Pretty Lady is now Sadie, Sadie, Houdini Lady. We can’t trust her anymore, but we can still love her.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Introducing JAMCO 7 – a new program for bank-owned homes

The market is full of foreclosed homes, many of which are bank owned and in need of repairs, sometimes before they can even be lived in. Until now, the only option for homebuyers was to try to get an FHA 203K loan. The 203K loan program is a great way to get the money needed for home repairs, but it has its own set of issues and fees/costs, plus many buyers just didn’t qualify. Click here to go to the HUD site and read about the 203K loan program. Now there is an alternative to explore if you want to buy a bank-owned house that needs some minor repairs, or maybe a new roof.

Introducing a new John Adams Mortgage program called The JAMCO 7. The JAMCO 7 allows you to close on a bank owned transaction, with John Adams, prior to some repairs being done! The repairs and our re-inspection need to be done within 7 days after closing. A roof, some painting (non lead based paint) and cracked windows are just a few of the items we will allow to be done after closing. John Adams will allow this to be done on FHA and Conventional deals.

There are some restrictions with this program as follows:

1) The buyer would need to put up to 1.5x's the estimated repair amount in escrow (John Adams holds the money). When the repairs are done, we send the appraiser out to verify and reimburse the escrow to the buyer

2) Must be a bank owned property. (No redemption period)

3) FHA and conventional loans only.

4) No VA or MSHDA loans are allowed

5) "Major" repairs are not allowed, including foundation, mold and lead base paint issues.

John Adams underwriters and management holds the right to make the final decision. They have, however, done quite a few of these over the past 12 months and feel very comfortable in what they can, and can't, do. Bank owned homes are still a large part of this market. The JAMCO 7 may help more buyers with financing on homes that they otherwise just couldn’t buy.

In the Milford, Commerce, Highland, White Lake and West Bloomfield areas, call Agnes Miesch of John Adams Mortgage at 248-684-5581for more on this great new program.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

If you can dream it, you can do it...

So, you want to be a Realtor®. Well, you’re in luck. Real Estate One is offering the 40-hour pre-licensing classes in the Brighton/Milford area to meet the classroom requirements by the State of MI to get your real estate license. This training will prepare you to take the Michigan Real Estate License test.
Classes will be October 3, 5, 6 in the Brighton office & October 10, 12, 13 in the Milford office – from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm. There is some flexibility in time for those people who may have to be home to pick up children after school, etc. The cost is $99.00 for the class & $30.00 for the book. The instructor will be Pat Bean, who started her career at Real Estate One. Pat has a high pass-rate for the test for those who have been through her training.
If you are interested and the schedule for these classes fit for you, call Mary Nicole at 1-800-370-5816 for details and to sign up. Call today!

A new member of the family...

Over the weekend Carolyn and I welcomed a new member to our family here is Milford - Sadie.

We went to the Pet-a-palooza at the Detroit Zoo. We left thinking maybe we'd find a male, lab puppy and came home with a 4 year old, female, German Short Hair Pointer - go figure. Actually she adopted us, or at least Carolyn, while we were looking around.

Sadie (our name for her) is a real sweetheart. She's basically pretty laid-back, but he does have lots of energy, which means lots of walks each day. I'll definitely get my exercise with her. We've taken her to the bark park a coupe of times and let her run. She runs herself out eventually and then sleeps really well that night.

Being a hound, she can be a hand full to walk. She's constantly finding scents to track or seeing squirrels that need to be reminded that they should be up in the trees. I got one of the new head halter leads for her and that solved the pulling issues immediately. I highly recommend them.

So, say hello to Sadie; the newest member of our little Milford family.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A wonderful trip to Canada...

My wife and I went to The Stratford Festival Theater on Tuesday for a matinee performance of Camelot and then spent the night in Woodstock. What a nice day. Stratford is a delightful little town about 20-30 minutes northeast of London, Ontario. The Stratford Festival is an annual series of plays – featuring the plays of Shakespeare and other plays. There are three theaters in Stratford, with varied play bills. The Stratford Festival repertory company is purportedly the largest permanent repertory company in the world.

The Festival Theater that we went to is set is a beautiful park and we resolved to bring a picnic lunch the next time that we come. It is an easy 4 hour drive from Milford, with only a few construction detours, mostly in Canada. We didn’t have time on this trip to spend time downtown in Stratford, but a quick drive-thru showed us that there appear to be lots of cute shops and restaurants, so that’s another thing on the to-do list for next time.

I can certainly recommend this as a great day trip. The season is almost over for this year, but next year we plan to go back to see several plays. There were bus-loads of seniors at the matinee, I suspect for the same reason as we chose it – it’s easier to stay awake for a matinee performance than for one at night. I also wanted to have daylight to drive to Woodstock in, since we were going cross country on back roads to get there. I’d have gotten lost for sure if it was dark.

One frustration for me was the consequence of me buying a cheap GPS years ago. The GPS that I have doesn’t work in Canada or at least I couldn’t figure it out. Apparently I only bought the maps for the U.S. Live and learn. I could have used my smart phone GPS, but the roaming charges in data mode add up quickly, so I had printed off a bunch of Google maps at home and used them. They worked fine.

The only complaint that I have about the Canadian experience is that I think I got ripped off at a gas station – the attendant charged me 10% to do the money exchange of my $20 US, turning it into $18 Canadian. The rate that we hit elsewhere was very close to a 1 to 1 ratio. I guess there those types of crooks in every country.

Monday, September 19, 2011

What a great weekend in Milford...

This past weekend was sort of a last Hurrah for Summer in Milford, Michigan. We had something for everybody going on over the weekend.

On Saturday and Sunday the 2011 Milford Home Tour provided access to five of our Village homes (four of them historic homes), plus visits to the Milford Historical Museum and the Log Cabin was open next to the fire station, with a display of how the original settlers lived in Milford. The Pettibone Creek Powerhouse was also open for tours visits both days and the Friends of Oak Grove Cemetery provided a cell phone based walking tour of the homes of some of Milford’s Civil war heroes, all of whom are buried in Oak Grove Cemetery.

Saturday evening the Milford Downtown Development Authority (DDA) held a reception in Center Street Park to launch the installation of several Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) Old Masters art reproductions in locations around Milford. The DIA will leave the reproductions on display for a while and people may order reproductions for their homes at several locations around Milford. The DDA reception featured wine and food samples from Milford’s fine restaurants and a walking tour of the installation sites – all in downtown Milford. You can come take the walking tour of the DIA sites anytime for the next couple of months.

Then on Sunday, with all of the events mentioned above still gong on, there was the Tractor Show out at the Huron Valley State Bank and the huge Milford Car Show, which took up all of Main Street all the way through town. Awards were presented for cars voted best in several categories and for best in show. In addition the Rotary held their annual Duck Race fund raiser, with over a thousand little yellow rubber ducks racing down the Huron River. Prizes were awarded to duck ticket holders for the first few ducks to complete the race. My ducks must have pulled a hamstring or something – they finished out of the money.

So it was a great weekend in Milford, Michigan, with something for everyone to do. Start planning now to be a part of this great tradition next year. We’re already starting to plan for next year’s events. So, come on out to Milford and see why it is one of the greatest places in Michigan to live. I’ll even find you a new home while you are there.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A service worth looking into…

I hear about all sorts of services these says, some of which don’t make much sense to me or which seem to be pretty poor candidates for business success – the pooper scooper people come immediately to mind in that latter category. I mean, I know that people are busy these days, but give me break on that one. Do enough people really need someone to come to their home to scoop up pet poop to make that a viable business model? Maybe, maybe not.

I recently had a nice sit-down with a lady in one of my Chamber of Commerce groups that is with a nationwide outfit called The Fiscal Concierge, LLC. Their motto, “Live your life…We’ll pay the bills”, gives a fairly straightforward and easy to understand explanation about a key part of what they actually do for people and businesses. Basically they take over the responsibility of tracking and paying the monthly bills (the accounts payable) for people and businesses. In addition, for small to medium businesses, they also offer payroll services.

As I discussed this service with Debbie Stroup, the local rep for The Fiscal Concierge (click on the name to go to their corporate web site) it became clear why the family caregivers for an older person might want to use this service to make sure that bills get paid on time. The caregiver role can be overwhelming and taking this duty off of their plate helps immensely. It also makes sense for active seniors who might be off fulfilling life long dreams of travel not to have to worry about the bills going unpaid back home.

Unlike having automated bill paying set up through a bank, this concierge service pays all of your bills, not just those that offer automated payment and the concierge assigned monitors your bank account to make sure that there is enough money in the account to make the payments. Your concierge takes action to alert you or your caregivers when additional funds may need to be transferred into your account to cover the bills.

In addition Debbie mentioned that users of this service receive free identity theft protection from Lifelock (click here for more on the Lifelock identity protection services). These services end up providing great peace of mind to either group of seniors (and caregivers). Identity theft is a huge problem for all and especially for seniors.

Debbie also explained that many small to medium sized businesses find their Accounts Payable service to be a God-send and go on to also use their payroll services, which they offer through ADP Payroll. Small business owners have enough o worry about without having to spend time dealing with accounts payable and payroll issues. Maintaining a good record for making on-time payments is key to establishing the credit worthiness of any business. The Fiscal Concierge has also teamed up with Guardian to provide alarm services for small businesses at a very good rate to further protect your business. They could also provide the Guardian health monitoring services for homebound seniors.

So, as services go, The Fiscal Concierge seems to have very real value and is worth looking into if you are a caregiver for a senior or if you are an active, on-the-go senior. It also makes sense if you are a small to medium business owner. Give Debbie Stroup a call at (248) 366-4811 or email her at and tell her that you read about it on this blog. You won’t get any special discount, but Debbie will be happy to hear that her time spent explaining this all to me was worthwhile. I’m sure you’ll enjoy meeting Debbie, too and discussing your bill paying/accounts payable needs and maybe your payroll needs, if you are a small to medium business.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Singing in the lifeboats of life...

From Voltaire comes today’s advice ditty: "Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats."

Don’t forget to sing in the lifeboats was the title of a recent little book by Ross & Kathryn Petras that provided advice taken from the sayings and writings of great people through the ages about dealing with hardships. The main theme running through the book appears to be keeping a positive attitude and a sense of humor in the face of adversity.

We can all certainly use both in the midst of the economic shipwreck that we are living through right now. I often find it comforting to sing (if only in my head) some of the little songs that are a part of the church service at my church. Many of them are little 2-4 line songs used to introduce some part of the service, so they stick in your head quite easily. Sometimes snippets of other, more popular and secular songs seem to help.

What songs do you sing in the lifeboat?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

We’ve all fallen down the rabbit hole…

A bunch of us were discussing the current real estate market in the office the other day, when it hit me that we’ve all fallen down the rabbit hole and are now wandering around in Wonderland with Alice. That would seem to be the only logical explanation for the madness that is real estate these days. Surely the insanity that we face each day in the realm of short sales defies any other explanation.

For a while, I was using the analogy of the man behind the curtain from The Wizard of Oz to explain the great and powerful Investor – the man behind the curtain to whom everyone bowed and scraped and whose actions and pronouncements no one understood.

But, perhaps the richer set of characters in Alice in Wonderland would provide more opportunities to give face to the various banks and characters that we encounter in our real estate lives today – the Cheshire Fat Cat and the Mad Hatter would seem to be especially appropriate to represent some of the short sale bankers and negotiators that I’ve hit.

The sad conclusion that we all came to in our discussion is that this is no longer an anomaly, but rather represents the new reality of our market. I suppose the sooner that one comes to grips with that the better. As one who is naturally a bit of a cynic and can appreciate the absurd this Dali-esk landscape s beginning to look natural – “Look is that a clock melting over the side of that table? No, it’s a clock measuring the time passing on a short sale!”

What did the bank say about our offer? They said to lower the offer and resubmit it. OK, which way to the tea party, Mr. Hatter?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Post Irene - what was really covered?

One major aftershock of Hurricane Irene (See you didn’t know that hurricanes can have aftershocks, too, did you?) is that homeowners are discovering that much of the real damage caused by Irene is not covered by their homeowners insurance policies.

While those who took a direct hit by the high winds that Irene packed will likely be covered (but not necessarily); the majority of Irene’s damage was caused by flooding (either tidal surges or rain-swollen streams and rivers) and that is almost never covered (unless you have flood insurance or a flood rider on your policy). Those in land locked Vermont, who were ravaged by swollen rivers, are particularly out of luck. Most did not have flood insurance, since they did not live in normal flood zones.

The other thing that sometimes comes into play is where a possession is when the damage occurs. If your car is sitting out in the driveway and the flooding from Irene’s rains inundates it, ruining it and causing a total loss, then your car insurance policy will likely cover the replacement. However, it you parked it in the garage to avoid any possibility of hail damage and that same flood water inundated it in your garage, it would fall under the homeowners’ policy and may not be covered since you didn’t have flood insurance. There was a good article in the Sacramento Bee about the gaps in insurance coverage that are letting insurance companies off the hook for most of Irene’s damage.

Irene is one of hundred-year events that we’ve been seeing a lot of lately. If nothing else it should cause all of us to question what is covered and not covered when big natural disasters hit. If my car is in the driveway when the tornado goes through uprooting a big tree that falls on it is it my car insurance or my homeowners policy that I should turn to for coverage and a replacement? What about if it was in the garage at the time and the tree crushed both the garage and my car?

Most of us probably suffer from the FDH syndrome when it comes to insurance – Fat, Dumb and Happy. We really don’t know what is covered and what’s not. Perhaps we don’t really want to know. But, in this case; what we don’t know can hurt us. Check your coverage before it’s time to try to file a claim.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Another miracle of real estate…

I had the opportunity to hear all about yet another miracle of real estate. It seems that the property that I visited recently on a potential listing appointment was somehow overlooked by the angry gods of real estate and spared any apparent loss in value. Nestled in a neighborhood that was ravaged by those same angry gods to the tune of 45% value losses over the last few years, this property was somehow passed over and has retained its peak value, according to the homeowner.

Not only have the gods of home devaluation smiled upon this house, but many of the minions that associate with those gods have also decided that this house will be the exception. The god of home mechanicals has determined that the 30 year old furnace probably has another 30 years in it, so there is no need to replace it, nor the water heater which is after all on 15 years old. The goddess of roofs has decreed that 30 years have not diminished the sturdy shingles that make it up and indeed she has directed many of the shingles to curl up in smiles in celebration. The goddess of the galley kitchen has joined the celebration by assuring the owners that retro-look vinyl countertops are back in favor and that Harvest Gold appliances are again all the rage in kitchen design.

The owners also took offense at my suggestion that replacements for their old aluminum framed windows might add value. They have been assured by the window spirits that aluminum is much sturdier than those new-fangled vinyl windows. They also assured me that air conditioning is not required, since it only gets hot a few weeks each year and the goddess of comfort is perfectly happy with just opening the windows during those warm stretches.

Needless to say, we could not arrive at an agreement on a listing price. They certainly felt sympathy for the unfortunate other homeowners in their sub whom the gods had not passed over and who have sold in the last 2-3 months for so much less than their home is worth; but they opined that they certainly aren’t going to give their home away, so they’ll find someone else who will appreciate its value more than I did.

I thanked then for their time and wished them luck and stood outside for a while looking for any visible sign that the gods may have used to mark this house for the various miracles that have occurred for it. I couldn’t see any through the overgrown bushes that completely obscure the front of the house.