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Monday, June 27, 2011

Bored? Go visit a museum!

Many of my blog readers know that, in addition to being a Realtor, I’m also the President of the Milford Historical Society out in Milford. I appreciate history, but can’t claim to be a history buff. However, when Carolyn and I travel we’ll often spot a museum that peeks our interest and stop in. Sometimes we even make those venues our destination, as we did recently when we set out to see the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

That trip was a wonderful success. Stockbridge is one of the small towns in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts that the rich and famous of the 1800’s in New York made their summer getaway. In those days, one didn’t just visit for a weekend; families stayed on for the entire summer season, enjoying the cool mountain breezes in the area. Little towns like Stockbridge and Lee, Lennox and Great Barrington and others in the area attracted artists and the rich alike from New York.

The Norman Rockwell museum was everything that we thought it might be, with all of his works (mostly ion prints but with some key originals) on display and his last studio open for tours too. We also visited the nearby home and studio of Daniel Chester French, a noted sculptor of the 1800’s who created the Abraham Lincoln statue that sits in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Both of them and all of the historic stores and homes in the area were fun to visit. You get a better since of place and tie when you see that many of their historic homes have been there since the 1700’s.

On our way there I noticed that the JELLO museum was just off the highway in the historic town of Leroy, New York, so we stopped there on the way back. Leroy was the summer getaway for rich people from Rochester and Buffalo, New York. The JELLO museum is housed in a historic building that was once part of the JELLO factory complex that was in Leroy.

The museum is full of artifacts and pictures and stories about the early days of JELLO and the man, Pearle B. Wait, who invented what his wife dubbed Jell-o in 1897. He failed as a salesman of his new invention and sold it in 1899 to Frank Woodward for $450. It was Woodward who figured out how to market the product and made a fortune off of it. The displays of the history of JELLO had many of the familiar TV and print ads for JELLO that I remember as a kid. In the basement of the JELLO museum is a display of carriages and an antique car from Leroy of the late 1800’s, as well as pictures of Leroy in its summer retreat heyday.

Carolyn and I often aim for, or stumble upon, unique museums as we travel. In Florida on one trip we came upon a little place called Sponge-O-Rama. It is located in Tarpon Springs, Florida, which was the sponge capital of the world for a while (or so they claim). Sponge-O-Rama focuses upon the history of the sponging industry in America and specifically that in Florida, which was the sponge capital of the U.S. It also has some information about sponging in other parts of the world and has fascinating displays of the hard helmet diving outfits that were used for much of the sponge diving in Florida waters. Like many other things that people do, the sponge industry basically over worked the sponge beds until the killed off their own livelihood and the industry died.

On another trip, this one around Lake Michigan (a part of the Great Lakes Circle Tour) we stopped in at Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin, the winter home of many of the great touring circuses in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. From their Web site comes this history - The Ringling Bros. Circus was founded in Baraboo, WI, in 1884 by five brothers: Al, Otto, Charles, John and Alf T. Ringling. Ringlingville was the name for the original Ringling Bros. Circus winter quarters in Baraboo. The buildings, standing along the north bank of the Baraboo River, date from 1897 through 1918 and are the largest surviving group of original circus structures in North America. Circus World's collection of circus artifacts is perhaps the largest in the world. It includes over 210 original wagons and vehicles once used by American, English and Irish circuses.

Circus World houses an exceptional collection of circus ads and posters, with over 9,500 multi-colored circus posters that range in size from half-sheets to a large 80-sheet Buffalo Bill Wild West poster measuring 9' high and 70' long. The collection also includes thousands of journals, manuscripts, business records, original fine art oil paintings, hand bills, heralds, programs, artifacts of circus performers and a collection of rare photographs and negatives.

On a trip that is closer to home, we went to the Merry-Go-Round Museum in Sandusky, Ohio, where they have interesting displays of carousel history and on the art of carving carousel animals. They actually have animals being carved, so that you can watch the carving techniques used. Of course they have a working carousel, so you could take the kids and let them ride. There is another museum dedicated to carousels and it’s actually called he Carousel Museum. It’s out in Bristol, Connecticut, which I dare say will now become a must see destination for a future trip. The Carousel Museum claims toe have the worlds largest collection of carousel animals and is dedicated to collecting, restoring, and preserving carousel art and memorabilia.

Of course, even closer to home is the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Island, which provides a fascinating look at the life at “sea” on the Great Lakes. You could also drive to Vermillion in Ohio to Located in the nautical town of Vermilion, Ohio Its Inland Seas Maritime Museum is a key attraction on Ohio's north coast, and is a focal point of the historic Harbour Town district of Vermilion. Visitors to the museum come from around the world as well as from the U.S. and Canada. The museum contains one of the world's largest collections of Great Lakes historical maritime artifacts, documents, ship models, and original artwork. And just a couple of hours north of us is the Great Lake Lore Maritime Museum in Rogers City, Michigan.

Without even leaving the area there are a bunch of great museums and historical attractions that document what life was like for the pioneers in this region. The Milford Museum, in downtown Milford; the Waterford Historical Society’s display of buildings and artifacts in Fish Hatchery Park and Greenmead Historical Park are three good local destinations. Since most of these smaller museums are run by volunteer organizations, it is best to look them up on the internet first to see when they are open. Of course we also are blessed with the Henry Ford museum, which is large enough to require several trips to take it all in.

So, the next time you’re bored, go find a local museum and learn something new. Maybe you can find a museum that focuses on some specific person or product or other obscure bit of our history. It’s great to see how kids take to some of these sites. Since they get so little exposure to history in school any more, and most of that at a national or international level; many of them know nothing about the history of the towns and villages that they live in or about the lifestyles of the pioneers and early settlers. Take the kids and show them how their great, great great, grandparents lived. Then they can ask mee-maw the next time they see her if she churned her own butter or carried water into the house in wooden buckets for a bath.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fail your way to success...

From the Jack’s Winning Words blog come this tidbit of wisdom - “I have failed many times, and that’s why I’m a success.” (Michael Jordan).

Michael would be right at home starting a career as a Realtor®, since learning by failures seems to be the methodology of choice for training of new agents. I suppose that there is really little choice about that, since it would be impossible to cover every variation that comes up in a real estate deal. The nature of the beast is that every deal is different, with unique challenges. How do you teach that? Most companies with good training programs cover all of the basics and focus some on problem solving and using available resources wisely to resolve issues. Some even have mentoring programs which pairs up experienced agents with rookies. I’ve done that with several newbies.

A key to succeeding in an environment like real estate sales is not of be afraid to make those mistakes, to fail, so that you learn. Most mistakes can be corrected. A common reason for failure among new agents is that the fear of failure prevents them from even trying. They get frozen in place by the fear that they’ll look stupid in front of a potential client. “What will I say if they ask me how long I’ve been an agent or how many homes that I’ve sold?”, is a common question for new agents. That’s where the mentoring programs can help a lot by providing that seasoned veteran to ride along and provide a crutch to lean on, if needed. Another fear is how to compete for listings against seasoned agents. Here again, having a strong company behind you, like Real Estate One in Michigan, is a great equalizer. You are a part of a bigger, stronger team than any of those competitors.

One key for Michael Jordan and for new real estate agents is to learn from those failures. What worked and what didn’t. What could you do differently next time – and remember that there will always be a next time. What tools or resources could you have used and how will you work them into your future business opportunities.

The other key to success is to keep trying. Don’t let failure get you down, it’s just part of the job. It means you’re doing something – maybe not right yet, but at least something. Hearing a NO from a potential client, is better than not hearing anything at all because you never tried. So, get out there and fail today. Today’s failure will help you succeed tomorrow.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Finally some good market news to share finally have some good news to share about my little patch in the overall real estate market. Consistent with reports at the national level, distressed sales, as a percentage of overall sales in my market areas are down. In fact, for the first time this year I have more local markets below 50% distressed sales than those above that mark. I still have one market that is mostly distressed sales (70%), bit even it is showing signs of stabilizing.

See the June, 2011, market sales results for June in the Southeastern Michigan markets of Milford, Commerce, White Lake, Highland, South Lyon, Green Oak, Brighton, Hartland and West Bloomfield at

You'll find the Year-To-Date statistics for those markets there, too. Anecdotal evidence also points to a slow down in value loss in these markets, with more sales taking place at the assessed value or higher than has happened in a long time. Since they are closing, the homes must be appraising for those higher values, too.

The issue now may quickly become the lack of inventory as would-be sellers still seem to be reluctant to list and we are running out of diestressed inventory. We had another pause in foreclosures in MIchigan when the Attorney Genertal announced that he is investigating the whole MERS and robo-signing mess for Michigan foreclosures. Hopefully that will be over quickly and we can work our way through the foreclosure overhang and get back to a more normal market.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The boy who cried wolf grew up to be a Realtor

I’m feeling a bit like the boy who cried wolf from the children’s story. In his case he started crying “Wolf” to attract the attention of the town’s people, so that they would come running and he wouldn’t be lonely. He was lonely and bored spending all of his time tending the sheep with nothing much happening and no one to talk to.

As a Realtor, I look back over the last 3-4 years and can see how many times I cried “Wolf” or at least a real estate equivalent of that – “we’ve bottomed out and it’s time to sell.” I know that I’ve written blog posts to that affect at least four times in the last few years. I also know that I’ve been wrong all four times. In fact, things just kept getting worse – home values continued to sell, foreclosures and short sales continued to dominate the market and would-be sellers continued to sit on the sidelines.

In my case I suppose it was hope that things had bottomed out as much as anything, that motivated those posts; although it did get pretty lonely there for a while, with my listing inventory down to just one home for a while. I guess I was trying to convince myself as much as any reader of the posts that things had finally taken a turn for the better; or, at least, that they had stopped getting worse as fast. In fact the last couple of times it was that statement that the bleeding hadn’t stopped, but at least it had slowed that served as the most “positive” aspect of the post.

The other things that I noticed is that the recovery was like a mirage – always on the horizon, but never reachable. Starting in 2008, and based upon the combined opinions of the pundits of our industry, I predicted that 2010 would be the turn around year for real estate. Then it was to be 2011 for sure. Now a recovery starting in 2012 is iffy, but is still being held up by various economists and experts as at least the level off and start back year. We’ll see.

One thing that I’ve been fairly consistent about is that any recovery isn’t going to quickly recapture the lost value that this recession cost all of us. I’ve been saying a least a decade and now it looks more like two decades to get anywhere 2006 value levels. In some areas that will never happen. I’ve also been citing this recession as a fundamental reset of our economy in many areas, especially in the rust belt.

One can only get so far using analogies for the current situation, since analogies depend upon being able to relate the object of the analogy to something that has happened before that people are familiar with. We don’t use the Great Depression all that much (other than for convenient statistical comparisons, because most people alive today didn’t live through the Great Depression.

After the Great Depression economist calculated that it took 17 years for homeowners to recover the home value lost with the economic collapse. It may well take that long this time, too, to recover the value that we’ve lost. That will vary state by state and city by city. I saw a repot today that stated that homes in some areas like Pittsburg had lost as little as 1% of their value during this recession; while other areas, like Detroit or Las Vegas have lost 50-60% of pre-bust home values. Unless hyperinflation is allowed to run wild during a recovery, it is easy t see why it will take so long to recoup those kinds of losses.

So, is that dust on the horizon the cavalry of a recovery riding to our rescue or more recession Indians here with more loss arrows? I gotta go with the theory that 2012 is the year of the turn around; otherwise, it gets too depressing. I can see the bottom from here.

Yep. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Living at the bottom of the heap…

The recently released Clear Capital ( monthly Home Data Index™ (HDI) Market Report reported on the hottest real estate markets and the worst in the U.S. I guess I wasn’t expecting the Detroit area to be in the first bracket, but I also wasn’t thinking that we’d be the worst – the market that continues to have the highest devaluation of homes in America – but there we were.

Now, the Clear Capitol report defines the Detroit area market as Detroit, Livonia and Warren, so I guess there’s some wiggle room for me to say, “Yeah, but that’s not Milford.” But the point of the report is that our whole area continues to suffer home value declines. In the report the Detroit metro area is shown as suffering a 13.2% Quart over Quarter drop and a 12.6% Year over Year drop compared to 2010. The report also shows what they call the REO saturation point (the % of homes sold that are foreclosures) as 58% - the highest rate on the charts.

The report continues: Midwest markets of Detroit, Cleveland and Columbus continue to be hit particularly hard, posting three of the largest quarterly price declines. The nationwide uptick in distressed home prices were absent in these three markets. REO saturation rates well above 40 and 50 percent (Detroit, 58.0%; Cleveland, 44.3%; Columbus, 45.6%) pushed these markets to double-digit quarter-over-quarter home price declines.

My own data out in my little market area tends to agree with the saturation percentage, at least in some of the markets that I cover. So far in June, the Highland market is running at 70% distressed sales (I define distressed as foreclosures and short sales, the majority of which are foreclosures right now). Milford is at 60% so far, with Commerce Township running at 50%, West Bloomfield at 48% and White Lake at 46%. However, the median sold values charts in most of those areas show an increase the last couple of months, which says that more expensive distressed homes are selling now.

The report talks of an average forecast value loss in the midsection of the country of about 8% for this year, as compared to double digit losses in the past and I think I can agree with that figure. We seem to be losing value at a slower rate this year. The bleeding hasn’t stopped, but it has slowed. Of course that could be that we’re running out of blood, too.

The report doesn’t try to explain the root causes of the continued decline other than some generalities about the auto industry problems and continued high unemployment rates in the rust-belt states. I’d certainly add that FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) still reins in Michigan, even with Captain Sunshine as governor.

So here we are again – worst in the nation, again. At least we have no where else to go but up, once we stop falling.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The pump has rejected your card…

I just returned from a short vacation over to the Berkshires in Massachusetts. Carolyn and I went there to visit the Norman Rockwell museum and to take in the other local attractions, of which there are many. The area of the Berkshires that we were in – Lee and the Stockbridges (East and West) and Lennox – was in the late 19th century a favorite summer spot for the wealthy of New York. They would come in May and stay until September to enjoy the mountain vies and the cooling breezes that blow year around in the hills around the area.

We enjoyed the stay and the Rockwell museum. We also visit the home and studio of the man who created the Lincoln Memorial statue of Abe Lincoln that graces the National Mall – Daniel Chester French. It was fascinating to see the many variations that he tried before getting to the design that sits on the mall now. There were lots of other interesting historical building and homes to visit in the area, so we had a full three days of exploring and sightseeing. It’s a visit worth making, if you need a destination for a vacation.

It was in the return trip that I had the experience of being rejected by a gas pump. Perhaps I should say that my credit card was rejected by the pump, not me. What a frustrating experience that was. Now I hasten to add that I likely brought much of this on myself. We had been traveling for some time on I-90 in New York and it was time to get some gas. I pulled in to the Sunoco Station at one of the thruway service centers. It had one of the self-service pumps that we are all experienced at using. I pushed in my card and quickly took it out (as instructed) and then did the unthinkable – I took the hose off the hook before the pump had finished it’s authorization routine. Apparently that really ticked off the pump, because things went downhill from there.

After the pump cycled through a couple of more questions and indicated that it was “Authorizing” my transaction, it must have noticed that I had jumped the gun and taken the hose off the hook early. It got mad! It told me to replace the hose to the hook. Then it told me that it could not authorized my transaction. I suppose that I should have supplicated myself to the pump at that point; but, instead, I just put the hose back and tried to start the transaction over. No way, said the pump. Your transaction cannot be authorized.

Frustrated, I put the hose back on the pump again and went inside to speak to the attendant. His was response was “The pump has rejected your credit card.” Well, I asked, can’t you override it and let me charge this and get on my way? “No,” he said, “the pump has rejected your card.” Sensing that further conversation with this minion was worthless, I said fine and returned to the pump. Determined to get gas I used a different card and followed the instructions of the pump to the letter.

As a follow-up, I immediately called the card company and inquired as to why the credit transaction had been rejected. It had not. They had no record of the pump even trying to contact them. The pump made the decision on the spot and in real –time to reject me and my card because I had not followed its instructions. Of course the human on the scene had no authority or inclination to do anything to overrule the pump.

We got our gas and continued on our journey; but, it is a sad commentary on where we have arrived as a society when human-based common sense has been programmed out of the decision making process. The guy behind the counter is just there because the pump apparently can’t handle the register and the candy sales. Otherwise the pump rules.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Case-Schiller - Schmiller we don't need no double dip

The recent Case-Schiller report on the national real estate market showed real evidence that the market has indeed entered a double dip- a second decline in home values, after a short "recovery" earlier in the year.

Of course all real estate is local, so the national trend may not apply in your area. In fact, in my home market of Milford, Michigan, we appear to be defying the odds - see chart below from Altos Research:

Real Estate Market Chart by Altos Research

Milford home values turned around earlier in the year and continue to rise and the inventory in the local market is going up, too. Inventory is still low, compared to historic levels, but more people are apparently feeling good about listing their homes (or maybe they just gave up waiting out this mess).

Such is not the case right next door in Highland. There the home value decline turned around in April, but inventory continues to decline.

Real Estate Market Chart by Altos Research

And if one looks at the White Lake market it is hard to see more than a tiny blip that even looked like things were getting better. The malaise continues in that market.

Real Estate Market Chart by Altos Research

Finally, there is the Commerce Township Market, which has taken off so fast that the inventory can't keep up with the demand. Since April the Commerce market has come roaring back, in terms of median sold home prices and the inventory has struggled to keep up.

Real Estate Market Chart by Altos Research

Both White Lake and Highland also continue to top the 50% mark in terms of the percentage of home sales that are foreclosures or short sales - not an encouraging sign of things getting better.

I certainly hope that our market is a leading indicator of a robust recovery (at least in some of the sub-markets) and not just lagging the national scene. I've listed five houses since the turn of the year, which is good; however, I still have all five on the market, which is not so good. We still need more buyers in the mid-price range ($200-$400K), which is where most of my listings are priced.

So Mr. Case and Mr. Schiller can report all they wish about a double dip in housing. We seem to have been happy with our Single, prolonged dip - thank you very much. We're off to a new, better market without them.