Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for December, 2005

Limbo is in Limbo

People, mostly non-Catholics from what I am reading, have noted that the idea of Limbo is being dispensed with by the Vatican. I don’t understand the hubbub. Limbo was never a Church Doctrine. There is no reference to it in scripture, and Christ never said anything that would even lead one to conclude it exists. It was always a theological theory. It is an ecclesiastical urban myth. It is an arcane concept postulated thousands of years ago that had more use by non-Catholics to tease the Catholics in the school yard than anything else.
If the discussion of theological theory gets you a better parking space, somebody please let me know. It doesn’t make a difference in making you a better person. It is the spiritual equivalent of arguing over which end of the egg to break. However, if that’s what you like to prefer to talk about instead of baseball or Dungeons & Dragons, so long as you don’t use it to justify demonizing certain segments of the population, live and let live.
Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Annus horribilis

2005 was a year that I would just as soon forget in many ways. It almost seemed doomed from the start.
Sometime around New Year a building we were about to rehabilitate had a pipe burst. We thought it had been winterized; it wasn’t. The basement was like a hockey rink, toilets exploded, and our plan to refinance it to complete the rehab had to be put on hold until we could…rehab it.
And downhill it went. Soon thereafter a furnace conked out in another property, causing another pipe burst. Later, we had a sewage line collapse, necessitating an expensive excavation. This would occur again in yet another home, giving us two pair. A full house was not to be had, and that went for the tenant vacancies we had to endure. I still recall a day in late July when I arrived at a vacant apartment and witnessed the toilet exploding before my eyes.
And then something else happened that you can’t put money away for… loved ones began to get sick and die. It started with my father in law going on dialysis. My oldest brother Tom, who had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, went from being non-symptomatic to starting chemotherapy. And then, sadly, we lost my older brother Paul quite suddenly. It still seems surreal.
Life is what happens when you are making other plans of course, so we had the joy (and fatigue) of three children in the house, as well as the stress of adjusting to my 79-year-old mother being with us 100% of the time. I also hung my own shingle as an independent real estate broker this past summer, so there was never time to curl into a fetal position, even when they raised my property by 50% after we built small addition.
We are days away from officially declaring a crummy year over. I haven’t lost my perspective though; I know I’m a pretty lucky guy. I have a great partner, whom I can completely be myself around, which is kinda scary. She possesses a huge heart, smarts, a sharp wit and the legs of a Rockette (after three kids!). We have three awesome children and hope for another. We have slowly brought our house along, so much so that even pictures from a year ago surprise us. And we have hope that 2006 will be a better year, not because we rely on the law of averages or providence, but because we intend to cause it.

Read Full Post »

Tagged for 5 Neurotic Habits

Emily of Portia Rediscovered (and if you are a single male, what are you doing reading this? Introduce yourself to her) has tagged me for this 5 neurotic habits thing. The rules:
“The first player of this game starts with the topic “five weird habits of yourself,” and people who get tagged need to write an entry about their five weird habits as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose the next five people to be tagged and link to their web journals. Don’t forget to leave a comment in their blog or journal that says “You are tagged” (assuming they take comments) and tell them to read yours.”
OK. So my five (only five?) weird habits.
  1. Maps fascinate me.  I can stare at a map for a Rain man-esque period of time. I have no idea why.
  2. I have a benign obsession with the lottery and what I’d do if I were to win a fortune. I have an excel spreadsheet somewhere with jackpots listed in increments of $5 million, the after tax annuity value, and a list of ventures I would undertake based on different amounts. Given our proximity to Connecticut, if we go for a "drive in the country," I’ll buy a Powerball ticket, which is not available in New York.
  3. Whenever I travel, I buy the local team’s baseball cap. I own over 300 baseball caps. In general, I am a gigantic baseball fan and if you name a year I can tell you who won that season’s World Series, over whom, and in how many games. I know so much arcane minutiae about baseball statistics that my friends will call me long distance to settle a bet at a bar. I can also study the diagram of a baseball stadium for the same amount of time as a map.
  4. I can catch food thrown across the room in my mouth if you are anywhere close to the strike zone. This amuses my nephews no end. I suppose this doesn’t qualify as a habit but look at all the stuff I gave you in #3. OK, fine. Here’s a better one: I shave with Noxzema. Don’t knock it until you try it.
  5. If I go a half a day without checking my email I feel naked. I feel the same way if I run out for a loaf of bread and forget to bring my cell phone.
In turn, I shall tag:
Chad of Cake or Death? was already tagged, so I’ll pass it to
Dave of Soul of Wit, although I doubt he’s likely to want to.
There. I have now participated in a web journal chain letter. I feel kinda dirty. Thanks to Emily for thinking of me.

Read Full Post »

I did some snooping around about those "We Buy Houses" signs that are all over the place these days. My intrigue is not with people who buy a house, fix it up, and re-sell it for a profit. I have done that in less expensive markets, as do my associates. My curiosity has more to do with someone who ostensibly has the means to shell out the money to do this in this expensive area, yet is relegated to tacking nasty looking signs to telephone poles to ply their trade. It just seems incongruous that someone with half a million or a million dollars in a cash fund (which is what it takes around here, at minimum) would run around town nailing signs to roadsides.
I have spoken with some of these people, and the ones I have contacted do not appear to have that kind of money. They say they have mortgage contacts. Well, I am a mortgage contact. That makes me skeptical. The term "equity skimming" has come up, which many bring up and say they never do. For people that never do it, they sure know how it works. Here is what they tell me:
  • Find a homeowner in dire straights and behind on their mortgage. It could be due to loss of a job, divorce, or age/infirmity.
  • Have them deed the house house over in exchange for bringing their mortgage current. This could be a matter of a few payments or a year’s arrears. The existing mortgage is not paid off, but the buyer may represent that either it is or that the seller is no longer obligated to it once the house is "sold."
  • Rent the house out without paying the mortgage to get the upfront money back.
  • Sell the house at a quick dump price and keep the equity the owner would have gotten if they had sold the house legitimately.
These investors do distance themselves from equity skimming, yet I never heard of it, so the consumer probably never heard of it either. So why even bring it up?
Another peculiar thing these people do is crow that they aren’t real estate licensees, and the context would have you think that is a good thing. Law in this state presumes that licensees know more than the consumer, and are therefore held to a higher standard of conduct than two private parties engaging in a transaction. Simply put, a licensee has a license to lose; an unlicensed investor doesn’t. What’s the advantage? Would you rather deal with a licensed plumber or an unlicensed one? What about legal counsel from someone without a license to practice law?
Now, before I give the impression that I am Mother Theresa and that I look down on people who are trying to make a buck, let me assure you that buying an undervalued property is the wet dream of anyone in real estate, including me. I actively look for bargains. There are some established and legitimate firms out there that do this all day. These investors with the roadside signs may well have scruples and may not be the types to swindle little old ladies out of their home of 40 years for a song. However, from what I have seen from many of them, they do a poor job of proving it. Here’s what is probably going on: the guy making all the money in this is the the book and tape course guru with the the street corner sign idea. Oh, and the sign makers. They’re doing OK too. Caveat vendor.
Stop_sign

Read Full Post »

Typepad Glitches

I have been informed that people are unable to comment and/or track back to my posts. I have attempted to fix this on my preferences to no avail; there is still no comment link on my posts. I have informed Typepad of this, as well as my ever growing frustration with their service, so hopefully it will be resolved shortly.
Update: Fixed!

Read Full Post »

TTLB Ups and Downs

Note: If the inner workings of blog rankings do not interest you, skip this post. I address this subject because I am a competitive guy by nature and cannot pretend that progressing in something that is essentially meaningless is, well, meaningless.
I have blogged before about the shortcomings of the TTLB ecosystem ranking system that is on my sidebar. It is something that the guy does for free, so I think it is poor form to whine too loudly about how he goes about the thing. That said, it does frustrate me a bit when the rules keep changing. I never knew what the formula was for ranking exactly, but the most recent change seemed to shift the emphasis to incoming links, or other blogs that link to you. That makes sense; if others recommend you, it means something. In theory at least, over time, that would even out any discrepancies in traffic and readership.
Naturally, people over time figure out how to "play the system" with low ranked blogs artificially raising their status by conspiring with others to exchange a ton of links. Consequently, you have people with lower readership than mine with absurdly high ranks via all types of link whoring and alliance joining. That is inevitable; there is no way to prevent it, because if you did, the same people would figure out how to exploit the new rules. It is that simple. You just learn to separate the pretenders from the contenders, as it were. The only real way to prevent people from exploiting the rules of the game is to eliminate the rules. But then you’d have no game.
Still, it is NZ Bear’s prerogative to tweak the thing. It’s his and he owns it. He revised the system this month, blog rankings got reshuffled, some people got annoyed, and others liked it. Earlier this month, I went from something like a 1700 ranking all the way to number 882 yesterday. I didn’t see it as a fluke. On December 7th, I got an email from a really popular blog  (REALLY popular. Top 20.) telling me he liked my material and asking if we could exchange links. I was happy to. I like acknowledgment. Strangely, this blog never appeared on my referring information on my TTLB information page. Today, my ranking and link score both plummeted. I am now back to 1648. I found this curious, and read this on the TTLB site:
Excessive links from a single blog in general: Should a link from a blog with 2,000 links to other blogs be worth exactly the same as a link from a blog with only 200 outbound links? A link is a recommendation; it says, "Go look over here, and you’ll find something interesting." So should a recommendation from someone who says everything is interesting be considered as valuable as one from someone who seems to choose their recommendations with more care? I say "no". And so there is now a cutoff point for total number of outbound links a blog can have, after which, each additional link causes the "weighting" of a link from that blog to decrease slightly. As I know this is a controversial measure, I’ve made the limit very conservative: by my estimates, less than 5% of all blogs will be affected by this limit. So unless you link to more blogs than 95% of the blogosphere, you don’t have to worry about this change.
Consequently, all of the bigger blogs that link to my site have disappeared from my detail page today. Again, I appreciate NZ Bear’s sincere attempts to make his metric an accurate measurement. But I think he’s wrong here, and here’s why. If I get linked to by a top 20 or 30 blog that happens to exceed the rather arbitrary number NZ has chosen, that should count a hell of a lot more than a link from a small blog with a modest blogroll that ran into me googling the blue guys. It’s just logical. So I think that NZ has thrown out the baby with the bathwater to a degree. If you do a good job and get noticed and linked to by a bigger site, that is a coup, not something that should be discounted. Are there tiny blogs with big blogrolls? Sure, but no system will be perfect, ever. Moreover, a counterproductive outcome is that some of my very favorite sites, A Stitch in Haste, Dave Friedman’s Soul of Wit, and the Blue State Conservatives, have withdrawn from the ecosystem entirely.
Frankly I could give a rat’s rear if I am ranked 880 or 1650. It really doesn’t matter, and is certainly not my reason for writing. I have no ambition to be "discovered" so I can quit my day job. It’s just cheaper than calling 1-900-TOPURGE. This is my mental recreation. It’s more like a friendly poker game. Last week, my 4 of a kind beat your full house. This week, your full house beat my 4 of a kind. I just don’t know what to expect. Believe me, it is just as gratifying to be on KipEsquire’s Elite 11 as it is to improve from 1650 to 1575, or 950 to 880 for that matter. I say let’s just decide what the rules are once and for all so it can be fun again. Isn’t that the point?

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »