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Archive for December 27th, 2005

Strange But True

Perhaps your town has some signs up on telephone poles and street corners that say "I Buy Houses. 1-800-555-XXXX." We have them all over the place in the counties above NYC. Given that I am a real estate broker who likes to work with investors, I call them. Most are full of bologna; they bought an infomercial real estate investment scam course and have been indoctrinated that brokers are to be avoided. Also, if you have the cash to actually buy a house, what are you doing running all over town defacing the scenery with these stupid signs when you could just take out an ad in the paper? Anyway, some might be for real, so I call. Occasionally, they are receptive. My interest is simple- I sell houses, they want to buy houses.
A week ago, I got a call back from a guy who has been posting these signs. He was eager to find a house he could buy, fix up, and re-sell. I knew of a fixer -upper that was available, so we set up an appointment to see the place, have a cup off coffee and see if we might do business down the road. We looked at the house, went for a slice of pizza, and then chatted out in the parking lot. He was in his 20’s, earthy, very big, and personable. He liked the house and we wrote an offer the next day. It was low, so we were taking a gamble that the seller might not be willing to bargain. In the end, I found out today that we were unable to strike a deal. That’s baseball. So I called him to let him know we’d have to get back to the drawing board. A woman answered his phone, and the conversation went something like this:
Hello, I was calling for Nick.
Who is this?
This is Phil, I was getting back to him about the house we made the offer on.
<silence>
Hello?
Nick isn’t here.
OK, can I leave a message?
<silence>
Um, with whom am I speaking?
This is Nick’s mother
Well Hello. Can you tell Nick that the seller won’t go below $300,000?
Look, I don’t know who you are, but Nick is mentally ill and is going away for a long time. I’d appreciate it if you’d stop bothering him.
Now that was news to me. I apologized to the lady, but assured her that I was a legit person and that her son was looking for property. Frankly, if anyone sounded mentally ill, it wasn’t Nick. There was nothing more to do, so we said goodbye. I neglected to tell her that her son has put up signs on the street corners saying he buys houses. If this lady truly was going through the ordeal of a mentally ill son it wouldn’t have helped to get debating points on the veracity of my not "bothering" her son. Now, it could be that she’s just pissed that her son is doing something she doesn’t approve. But maybe he is a nut.
Here’s what is a little freaky: I was in my car with this guy in an empty parking lot after dark chatting about real estate. I wouldn’t have known if he had a small bottle of ether or something equally lethal. My mind was not on self defense. As we chatted, an old man meandered up to my car and told me the lot entrance was about the be chained and we’d have to go. So my acquaintance got out of my car and got into his. Did that guy save my life or my wallet? It just goes to show that you never really know who it is you are talking to.
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The city fathers of Graz, Austria, have expunged former favored son Arnold Schwarzenegger’s name from the stadium once named in his honor to protest the execution of Tookie Williams.
The new name is now simply Stadion Graz-Liebenau (a district of Graz), though there were other proposals. One was to name the stadium after the Crips, the gang that Mr. Williams founded, but that idea did not get widespread support.
I should think not. What morons.

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Jere Longman of the NY Times has penned a fascinating article that you should check out. In the wake of the recent natural disasters, the idea has come up to move entire towns in Louisiana to safer and higher ground. Having lived in New Orleans in 1993-94 and having an attachment to the area, I must admit that the thought occurred to me that New Orleans herself would be safer if moved from the the south side of Lake Pontchartrain to its north side. Officials aren’t that ambitious, bit they are floating the idea with remote rural settlements.
Cameron Parish, where generations of Cajuns have hunted ducks and pulled up redfish, lost about 400 people to Hurricane Audrey in 1957. Last fall, when Hurricane Rita destroyed thousands of structures and flattened the coastline, some state officials began to question whether life there was still worth the risk.

Now Louisiana planners are proposing an idea that would have been unimaginable here a few months ago: moving an entire string of seaside towns and villages – and the 4,000 longtime residents who live in them – 15 or 20 miles inland to higher and presumably safer ground.

"If we could get 100 percent participation, which admittedly is extraordinarily difficult, if possible at all, we could conceivably take the entire population of Cameron Parish largely out of harm’s way for future events," said Drew Sachs, a consultant to the Louisiana Recovery Authority. He has been asked to develop bold suggestions for rebuilding the state’s coastal region in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The idea, of course, is already encountering resistance, particularly among younger residents. The tightly knit group of Cajuns who have lived here in unincorporated villages like Cameron, Johnson Bayou, Holly Beach, Creole and Grand Chenier are fiercely independent and self-sufficient. They have resided for generations on inherited family property in the state’s southwest corner, 160 miles to the west of New Orleans, living off the land and giving resonance to Louisiana’s nickname as the Sportsman’s Paradise.

"My grandfather would roll over in his grave if I sold our land," said Clifton Hebert, 44, operations chief of the parish emergency operations center. "He’d haunt me the rest of my life."

But others admit there may be some wisdom in a move, as painful as it would be. Wanita Harrison, a retired biology and chemistry teacher from Grand Chenier, loves the way the marsh fills with pelicans when a cold front pushes through. Her husband, Lee, relishes the splendid rural isolation and the ability to run off to Houston for a week without bothering to lock the house.

With their ruined belongings now piled along Highway 82, however – the piano is somewhere back in the woods – the Harrisons are actually considering the idea. Mrs. Harrison, in fact, says that if she goes north, it will be beyond Cameron Parish.

"It’s a good idea to consider moving inland," said Mrs. Harrison, 70. "I love my area, but we have to face reality."

Given modern technology, human beings no longer need to live on the banks of a river. I’m glad that some have embraced the idea, but 100% participation is a lost cause. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; if you rebuild the area, you are guaranteeing that you’ll have to incur a massive cost again down the road. If you relocate the towns, the odds are that you incur that cost only once. It’s a free country, and they cannot compel the stragglers to move if this idea takes hold. To those who remain, I would wish them luck, but also make it clear that the rest of the country will not pay for future disaster relief.

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