Monday, April 30, 2007

"Flagler, Know Thyself"

Reading the spec sheets on the athletes this weekend, as the NFL draft unfolded, provided curious yet useful information. "John Running Back: 5'10", 220lbs, 4.5sec 40, strong and reliable, smart, but injury prone." (Injury prone... hmmm?) "LaShawn Quarterback: 6'3", 215lbs., strong arm, can memorize a playbook, prone to throw into coverage." (Throws into coverage... ouch!) You see the point. They tell you the good stuff, but coaching staffs want to know where the warts are, too. That way they can make corrections and improve weaknesses, while honing the strengths. That way, they can know if they even want the guy in the first place.
Towns, cities, and counties are like that, too... with strengths and shortcomings. The headline popped off the page of the News-Journal's "Flagler Edition" this morning: "Advisers Envision Flagler Marina - Opponents of idea say it hurts 'rustic' appeal." It seems that John Jackson, director of Palm Coast's recreation and parks department would like a laid back approach to development of 20 city owned acres on the Intracoastal, with green space, a pavilion, and fishing areas. Seems more like what we might have done twenty years ago, prior to the morphing of this area from a "retirement community" to a "growing city." Growing cities need services to feed the growth. When services slow or stop, atrophy sets in.
I like Curtis Ceballos' take on the issue. As the vice chair of the Leisure Service Advisory Committee, he observes that a marina (if near an inn, restaurants, and shops) would be self-supporting and make Palm Coast a destination for boaters. "It would be a shame to go ahead without putting a marina there," said Ceballos. Would it be expensive? Sure, but what isn't, when it comes to progressive development?
Palm Coast and Flagler County need these forward thinking projects. We try to sell ourselves on the same level as Daytona Beach and St. Augustine, yet are quite timid when it comes to these dicey decisions. It's no secret that corporations have considered... and rejected us, based on what we have in the way of services for their employees. How many people do you know who live in Palm Coast, yet work in Daytona, St. Augustine, Jacksonville, and Orlando? We also have an abundance of wonderful things to be proud of here. The police, fire, and rescue services seem very good. Our weather is near two-season perfect. Real effort is being made to improve the roads and schools. The new hospital is a blessing. The sense is that the new Town Center development will be incredible. I've said it here before (and will again), "We get to live where others come for vacation!" AND we now have a real Starbucks, hallelujah! (Sorry, Albertson's, but that is not a real Starbucks...)
OK, so let's talk a little about the "other" stuff. This is what you talk about on the deck of your favorite watering holes. You murmur it in hushed tones, so others won't hear... and you NEVER mention these to anyone UP NORTH:
* The ICW is narrow here... you can throw a rock across it. It's hard to avoid big boat wakes - and you can't easily (or safely) water-ski. * If you're an ocean goer, you're stuck in the middle. Motor up to St. Augustine or down to Ponce Inlet... or take a dangerous risk at Matanzas... (I've seen you grounded on the sandbar!) * Yes, we have a beach, yet most of it is narrow, sloped, and often rocks lurk under the surf. * There's only one restaurant on the water, by the bridge in Flagler Beach. * Let's face it, after we get through a short list of decent eateries, we look elsewhere. When you get out of State visitors, I know you take them to eat in the courtyard at Harry's in St. Augustine (I've seen you there). * You want shoes from Dillard's? Glasses from Lenscrafter's? Jeans from the Gap? Undies from Victoria's Secret? Then get ready to burn at least $10 in petrol to your closest fixes. * How about public golf? Hammock Dunes, Ocean Hammock, Grand Haven, and The Conservatory are breathtaking... But, where do the cops and firefighters play? The teachers, the landscapers, the drywall guys? Pretty scarce! * Ditto for tennis. * Where are the sidewalks and bike paths? (I can hear "The Crocodile Hunter" now: Danger, Danger, Danger!) Did they really think there would be no cars... just those senior tricycles? * How about things for our teenagers to do? Outside of church youth groups and school activities, we're hurtin.'
Well, there's a list to start a squabble! How about you? What do you think? What do you really like about Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, and the county? What don't you care for? Post your comments below - and be heard!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

"Want Local Flavor? High School Sports are Hot!"

Boy, have things changed since my high school days. I ran back then, because the basketball coach made all his players run cross-country for conditioning (it worked). We ran on cinder tracks in our low-cut Chuck Taylor All Stars. Not today! We went to the Region 1-4A track meet in Winter Park yesterday and it was loads of fun. Flagler Palm Coast High School again showed themselves to be a force on the local running scene, by finishing a close second (only a 2 point margin) to Mandarin HS. They had to qualify last week in their District meet and they did so handily, then they spanked seven very good schools yesterday, to qualify for the Florida State HS meet in their division. The State meet is again at Winter Park HS, next Saturday, 05/05/07. Tickets are only $6 for the day. If you go, take an umbrella to keep the sun off, as the stands are not covered. (Take I-4 to Fairbanks exit - Left. Pass Rollins College to right on Northlake. Left on Mizell. Right on Edinburgh to the school.) "But, Frank, I don't have a kid on the team, or any kid in school, for that matter." No problemo. You watch FSU play Georgia Tech... and UF play Tennessee, right? And you watch the Jags, Bucs, Fish, Giants and Jets, right? And you watch... OK, you get my drift. You don't need a kid on the team to enjoy the games. These track athletes are amazing folks. We were connected to two of them yesterday. Brandon Mott qualified for States in the 200m and Florencia Silva, although she didn't quite make States, ran her career personal best in the girl's 1600m. There is history at this school. Alex (Sammy) Vazquez, Justin Harbor, and Anthony Morales have dominated middle distance and cross country since 2003, with several State titles and many records among them. You could always count on either a victory or a solid "top 5" from those guys in the 800m, 4x800m relay, 1600m, 3200m, and cross country. This year, watching Jarius Cooper (see above photo) in hurdles and sophomore C.J. Lockhart in the 400m and the relays has been a treat. My son, Zach, graduated from FPC in 2005, yet some of my fondest recent memories are from chasing the baseball and football teams, when he played. I watched him all the way through the years with T-Ball, Little League, Basketball, Pop Warner football, Tae Kwon Do, Wrestling, and Bi-athlon. Wrestling was the worst! Otherwise a cool spectator, when he wrestled, I came unglued. There is something profoundly "testosterony" (new word!) about watching your kid in close combat with another, that elevates the heart rate like no other event. In his final match of his rookie PAL season, he was down in points in the closing seconds, when from the depths he summoned enough to reverse and pin the kid at the buzzer. He won the meet... and "rookie of the year" honors. I know I flat-lined more than once during that match. When you're in the stands at a high school football game, I guarantee you a personal trip to "back in the day." The cheerleaders, the band (God, I love the drums!), the smell of hot dogs, the comfortable grooved metal bleachers... all create an undeniable "home town" ambiance. Baseball, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, wrestling, weight lifting - all amazing. And girl's softball? Compared to boy's baseball, it's like the difference between a rock concert and a string quartet. The girls put on a show that will blow you away! I'm startled by the quantum leap in speed, strength, and athleticism that these kids display, compared to when I was a high school jock. So stop saying there's nothing to do around here. Get out and support your local high school teams. Next year, watch out. The Matanzas Pirates will have their first senior class and should start to shine. Already, they have shown some amazing talent and their potential is growing. I can't wait until a Friday night football game between cross-town rivals, Matanzas vs. FPC!

Monday, April 23, 2007

"Tech Topic: p2c2e? Then rtwt!"

Now, I'm a guy who grew up in the non-tech era. I mean, I actually was pretty good with a "slide rule" in grad school at Georgia Tech (1976-1977). They made us take programming courses in such archaic languages as COBOL, BASIC, and FORTRAN. If we needed a printout to support a project, we submitted our "punch cards" to the "computer center" and picked them up a couple of days later. In my field of study, we had to compute a beast known as "linear regression analysis"... and we had to grind it out by hand. It took hours. You can do it today on a $49 calculator and get a great printout - in minutes! Speaking of calculators, schools were very suspicious of them, initially, and it was an honor violation if you used them to do homework! I'll never forget my first "legal" calculator. I was a Business Management student across the state at the University of Tampa (Class of 73'). This sounds crazy, but the calculator was the size of a small lunch box (complete with handle)... had a big red LED display... could only "add/subtract/multiply/divide/and compute square roots"... all for about $200.

Anyway, you get the picture. I was an Army Officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency in 1984, when we got our first computers. They were big monsters with green monochrome displays and 10MB internal drives and floppy disc external drives. They ran DOS as an operating system, as Windows and the lovable Mouse didn't come until the early 90s'. We played "Pong" and marveled at the fact that the Big Wigs found it a waste of time to release people to go get trained. "We're too busy for that new computer stuff." I got into real estate full-time in 1986 and bought my first "portable" computer. It weighed about 35 pounds and looked like an old sewing machine carrying case - but it was mine and I loved it. Heck, I bought a FAX machine in 1987, when our real estate office didn't think they'd be very useful. (One heck of a cottage industry, at $0.50/page:-)

We sure have come a long way in the past twenty years. A really good laptop today would have been adequate to launch the first moon landing mission. I'm one of those who thinks all this technology is not only "cool," but very useful and practical, as well. I'll take my $395 Treo "all in one smart phone" over the one I had in 1986 - 10 pounds in a canvas bag with a brick-sized battery - for $1,500! And this little Fujitsu Lifebook notebook PC is only 4 pounds. With my Verizon wireless card, the internet is "on" for me, wherever I go. I can post this Blog entry to my Google Blogspot site anytime or place. I can be in Tampa for the day and answer client questions with MLS access, or write a contract and e-fax it to another agent or client for signatures - sweet! The list goes on and on. Truthfully, what the heck did we do before E-mail? What a God-send! I can stay in touch with everyone. Those among us who resist the siren song of technology are really missing the boat. The excuse that "that stuff only complicates life" is such a cop-out. You don't have to become a slave to it, in order to enjoy it. I mean my new washing machine is way cooler than the roller job my Mom used... but that doesn't mean I spend all my time washing clothes.

So I pick up the paper this morning and "Today's Forecast" at the top of the front page says: "imho, it's gonna be adip... upper 50s to upper 70s." Wow... It started to unfold before my eyes. Hey, I spent twenty years in the US Army - always swimming in a sea of acronyms - and this is the new wave: TEXT MESSAGING. BTW (by the way), imho = in my humble opinion, and adip = another day in paradise. Not a bad weather report. Aisi (as I see it), it's just a new form of shorthand... bykt (but you knew that), right? Tttt (to tell the truth), I think it makes life easier and is really not a wotam (waste of time and money).

I really want to get better at this, because I've got about twenty kids and grandkids and their buds who "text" me and I don't want them fofl (falling on the floor laughing) at my lack of skill. Aamof (as a matter of fact), I don't want them saying that I have nac (not a clue). When they send me H&K (hugs and kisses), I don't want to mis-interpret it as Heckler & Koch (a maker of tactical weapons). Hey, try it, and b4yki (before you know it) you'll be cool too! Anyway, fwiw (for what it's worth), they have stuff for "previous generation" also. Like if a kid texts you with cula (see you later alligator), you can go back with awc (after while crocodile)! Well, ime (in my experience), eie (enough is enough) already. You get my point. So, c4n (ciao for now), Baby! Obtw (oh by the way), the title of today's post means: p2c2e = process too complicated to explain... and rtwt = read the whole thing! I guess that's my .02 (two cents worth)...

Friday, April 20, 2007

"Palm Coast: Traffic Accidents Waiting to Happen?"

Driving around Palm Coast and the rest of Flagler County, I'm sure, has taken your breath away from time to time. One reason would be the natural beauty of the area, like cruising down A1A with the shimmering Atlantic to the East, or over the bridge into Flagler Beach, when the vista of the Intracoastal and the ocean simultaneously come into view. My partner and I often say, "It's really cool to live and work in a place, where other people come for vacation!" The other reasons I'm getting at would be the times our breath has been made short by "close call" traffic events. Those times when you'd like to pull off and say a prayer of thanks for being spared "one more time." It's apparent that efforts are underway to fix many of these problem areas. Good job, by the way, for fixing that side entrance/exit, onto Cypress Point, at Wally World... we all had anxious moments there, when trying to turn left towards Belle Terre. Yet we're a bit behind in other spots, simply because of our unprecedented population growth and accompanying explosion of vehicle registration from 1999 to 2007. And if you haven't figured this one out yet, some of Palm Coast's roads are pretty tricky. My guess is that the ITT planners, back in 1969 hippie days, were rollin' doobies when one of them shouted out, "Hey! I've got it... let's make Palm Coast Parkway with a big median in the middle... and have the main artery through town... ONE WAY East... and ONE WAY West! That will really make for some confusing intersections. Haa Haa Haa Haa!" Then another guy said, "Cool - and let's not have sidewalks either. If kids ever move to Palm Coast, they can wait for the bus in the middle of the road!" Then they all voted "Yea" and ordered 14 pizzas, and Chinese takeout. Anyway, I'm asking for the readers of this new Blog to cast your vote for the spot in our area - "Where an accident is waiting to happen." Post your input to the "Comments" section below and I'll compile them. Then I'll make sure they get to the right people at the County for consideration. Here's my vote: Coming North on Belle Terre and turning left onto Easthampton at the traffic light by the new Publix. When the light is green - and inviting you to turn left - you can't see around the cars coming South and waiting to turn onto Central to get to Publix. It's extremely dangerous. Now... What's yours???

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"Sanjaya - Dumb Like a Fox!"

"Unbelievable," you say, "that he made it to the final seven?" I don't think so. Not at all. Why? Because American Idol is a form of life parody. Much of what happens comes at us and leaves us flabbergasted (that's a cool word - "flabbergasted" - try saying it slowly with your mouth totally relaxed...). Often, it's only after the dust clears that we start to sound smart. Like we knew it was coming and were prepared. Remember Christmas time, 2005, when we looked around Flagler County and realized that the bus was slowing down - and it was slowing down fast (for you math majors, that's a "rapid acceleration in the rate of decline")? Where am I going with this? Oh, yeah - Sanjaya! Dumb like a fox. The kid is going to reap some serious compensation, in return for the abuse meted out each week by Simon Cowl. You watch, he's going to blow by William Hung and the - "She Bangs" sideshow. Last night, soon after Sanjaya's vote count wasn't enough to maintain his improbable run, said: "... He really knew how to cultivate a fan base." and "His ability to stand out kept him in the competition." I understand exactly what they mean. However, and this is a big however, at some point, talent has to trump popularity to win big. We can get by nicely with either, but hang on to your hat when both are present in spades.
To finish this thought, LaKisha Jones, Blake Lewis, Chris Richardson, and Phil Stacey all have decent personalities and glimpses of real talent. Although two others, Melinda Doolittle and Jordin Sparks are far out in front of them. Here's my prediction: Melinda's ability to deliver a song with power and conviction is unparalleled in the Idol series - truly over the top star quality. But her personality has thus far been superficial - almost child-like. Once she stops singing (oh, what a voice), she's no fun. But Jordin - Wow! Her voice has emerged as second, only to Melinda's. But she is the total package - talent and charisma. Ladies and gentlemen, your new American Idol: Jordin Sparks!
So what can we mere mortals, here in Palm Coast, glean from all this? Well, for the past five years, as an emerging city, we've been Sanjaya. A little bit to offer, with an ability to cultivate a fan base, while all the stars were alligned. We took care of business, when the business needed taking care of. And now it's time for Palm Coast to take singing lessons (the timing is perfect) to prepare for the next round of auditions. It took this nice little retirement town from 1969 to 1999 to morph into an incorporated city. And then it took only from 1999 to 2005 to blow the doors off. Everything changed. We had traffic jams, for goodness sake! But, hey, now we have a "real" Starbucks! I hope you think it's worth the trade-off.
Instead of moaning about how slow things are, we should be thankful for the breather. Let's improve services, finish the road projects underway, let the city fathers recoup, clear out excess housing inventory, address the troubling tax issues, and revel in a true cross-town rivalry (Go, Bulldogs! Go, Pirates!). Things will rebound soon enough and we'll be busy and prosperous again... I promise! In the meantime, let's all wish Sanjaya God speed!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"First Quarter 2007 - Quick Market Synopsis"

In my first post to this Blog, Newspaper Readers: Beware! (04/12/2007), I eluded to the fact that statistics can be used to support an invalid premise. In other words, they can be mathematically correct, yet realistically misleading. When I use stats to tell a story, I try my level best to implement a three legged stool litmus test: Are they Real? Accurate? Usable? If they are not all three, I'd be disingenuous with my client base. I'd be had, because investors in real estate are usually pretty smart cookies. They can tell the difference between a valuable presentation and a dog & pony show. Pie charts and bar graphs and scatter diagrams are useful tools... if... they truly assist a property buyer or seller to make a good decision. Did you see the movie/musical, "Chicago?" Richard Gere, playing a slick jailhouse lawyer, sings a great song - "Razzle Dazzle Em' " In other words, let's get to court and pull the wool over their eyes! Statistics should not be used to impress, but to simplify. Here are some Real, Accurate, and Usable numbers, from the First Quarter of 2007, to show you what's going on, here in Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, and the area Realtor's Multiple Listing Service (MLS)... (There are a minuscule number of listings which are "Out of County," for convenience, yet they are statistically insignificant to our numbers): Total Number of Properties (All Types) For Sale on 04/17/07 = 7,670 145 Sold from 3/17 to 4/17 ... While 1,082 new properties were listed! 199 Sold from 2/17 to 3/17 ... While 982 new properties were listed! 174 Sold from 1/17 to 2/17 ... While 1,096 new properties were listed! * So, 518 were Sold in the last 90 days ... While 3,160 new properties were listed! * "All Types" includes detached homes, condos, in town building lots, acreage, etc. * This shows that Total (All Types) Inventory is increasing six times faster than it's selling! ****************************************************************************** Total Number of Detached (Non-Condo) Homes For Sale on 04/17/07 = 2,868 96 Sold from 3/17 to 4/17 ... While 542 new homes were listed For Sale! 135 Sold from 2/17 to 3/17 ... While 407 new homes were listed For Sale! 126 Sold from 1/17 to 2/17 ... While 439 new homes were listed For Sale! * So, 357 houses Sold in the last 90 days ... While 1,388 new homes were listed For Sale! * This shows that Total Detached Homes Inventory is increasing four times faster than sales! ****************************************************************************** Of the 2,868 non-condo homes for sale, the Median Price is $289,900. That means that half of all of them are under $289.9K and half are over $289.9K. The actual selling prices are lower across Flagler and Volusia. Median Sold (not asking) prices had gotten to the $225 - $235,000 range at the market peak, but have fallen off to the $210 - $220,000 range... and are continuing to drop. However, the good news "trend within the trend" is that the rate of decline is slowing down. That is usually a precursor to the market "finding the bottom," which is the start of stabilization. The news for condos and building lots is not nearly so encouraging (from a seller's perspective). Just a short while ago, I was doing some work for an investor customer, who had purchased a high end ($1,500,000) pre-construction condo (not yet completed). I had to let him know that there were over 300 high end condos on the market (Hammock Dunes, Hammock Beach, Cinnamon Beach, Ginn's Marina, Surf Club, etc.) now - not to mention the hold on the Marineland project and the mess Centex is dealing with at Palm Coast Resort. Those folks who were speculating in the "buy - build - flip" game, who bought last year, better have deep pockets (or need the tax loss) and the ability to hold them for a while! Typical building lots in Palm Coast have roller-coastered too. In 2001, you could buy them all day at $5,000 - $20,000. By 2005, they had shot up to $80,000 - $150,000. Today, most are falling back to the $45,000 - $60,000 range (at least those that have a prayer to sell). Well, that's it for now. No fancy stuff - just the basics. It's 12:20 AM Wednesday morning... I'm yawning... and Spike needs to be walked...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

"Don Imus Moving to Palm Coast?"

When Don Imus, on his popular Imus in the Morning radio show, crossed the line of human decency last week - he just may have sentenced himself to an unplanned retirement. Let's see; CBS and MSNBC have slid pink slips under his door - and when the likes of General Motors, American Express, Sprint Nextel, Procter and Gamble, and Staples turn their backs on you - things don't look so good. Besides, Imus looks pretty old - like he always needs a nap (or as my Irish mother used to say, "a lie down"). So... what if he came here to live? I mean ITT developed this town, at least initially, with retirees in mind, right? (I guess they figured we'd all be too old to walk around, so why would we need sidewalks?). Would we find a way to accept the guy? Granted, we might not see him all that much if he holed up at Island Estates or in the Disney-esque Towers at Hammock Beach, but you know what I'm asking. Would we, mostly Northern transplants, extend warmth and hospitality to him and help him to make Palm Coast his new home? Your answer could have a lot to do with the real value of "the Palm Coast experience." I'd put my money on Flagler County to do the right thing, especially if each of us took a quick peek in the mirror to see if there's anything in our past that just might need a little forgiving. Imus and his ilk - Shock Jocks - aren't a new thing. They started popping up in the early 1970's, in perfect harmony with a very real cultural decline. This is not moralistic rhetoric - This is an undeniable fact. Wikipedia defines "shock jock" as "a type of radio broadcaster who attracts attention using humor that a significant portion of the listening audience may find offensive." Right on, right on. Man, the things we can try to sell, loosely veiled as "humor." Absolutely nothing is sacred or taboo. Like racism, sexism, homophobia, public humiliation, and character assassination (to name the few I'd dare to put on these pages). The I-Man got his queues from the groundbreakers like Lenny Bruce and Redd Foxx, but currently swims in the cesspool with Howard Stern, Mancow, Greaseman, Wendy Williams, Bubba the Love Sponge, and Liz Wilde, to name just a few. These folks revel in their craft. And their fans?... Well their fans just say, "Hey, this is America, buddy. #*@~># you, if you don't like it!" (Notice that there are a couple of women on the list... just keepin' it real?) If you were born in the 60's or earlier, have you noticed that "The Jerry Springer Show" is a tad different from "Leave it to Beaver?" It seems that we have become a "Nation of Nasty" and a "Culture of Crass." Nearly every comedy show today, drips with sarcasm, put-downs, and sexual innuendo. Boxing has given way to "WWF Raw" and "Mixed Martial Arts Cage Fights." It seems that every movie out features one or more of chainsaws, twisted serial killers, or demonic entities. Certain popular music genres idolize violence, cop killing, and trivialized sexuality. Video games have become surrogate babysitters and they are off the charts with immoral insanity. Teachers in school are often fearful and coaches can't hug a kid, because of pedophilia law suits. The list is infinitely longer. Hint: Imus is not alone. "It's all good." "Whatever!" So, where am I going with this? John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers, said: "The preservation of liberty depends upon the intellectual and moral character of the people." I don't think Imus read the whole sentence, or if he did, he glossed over the "and." The truth is that our inherent human nature wants to leave out the "and." We weren't born "good." Ever notice how a baby does not need to be trained to be selfish, greedy, aggressive, or self centered? We all need forgiveness... for so many things. Can you deny how good it makes you feel when you get it? When you give it? For those who aren't getting this, they are all over the ground... you know... stones to pick up and throw. Anyway, I hope Imus sees this Blog and visits the area to check us out. I'd love to help him purchase a home here. He could probably get a good deal in this Buyer's Market. Maybe a killer 7,500 sq.ft. place on 2 acres in Island Estates on the ICW? We could probably find him one "deeply discounted" from $4,500,000 to, say $3,999,000? (Let's see, 6% X $3,999,000 = :-)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

"Beautiful Bulow - One of Many Area Secrets"

It started out as a lazy Saturday. I know you know the drill: "What do you wanna' do today?" "I dunno,' how about you?" "We really should plan the weekends better, so we don't ever waste one." "I agree. We need to do better at that. It seems that if we don't plan our off time, we end up working. We work plenty and need to re-charge." So, when I got back from walking Spike ("Spike" - isn't that a great name for a 15 lb. Min Pin?), I brewed up some Starbucks Italian Roast (Life is too short to drink cheap coffee - more on that next week!) and we started brainstorming. "I'm not in the beach mindset yet, are you?" "No, the only sun worshippers there right now are the ones from New Jersey, visiting grandma. They're over there at Christmas, for goodness sake, because 50 degrees at the beach here in Flagler is better than the 14 degrees and snowy they left in Newark." "OK, how about yard work? We could go over to Home Depot and get some plants and..." "No, no, I've got it, let's go to a park!" Honest - that's how it started. My partner's son, Alex (His name is actually Alexis, but everyone calls him Sammy, for some puzzling reason), said he used to run in some of the parks and that he liked Bulow Plantation. Alex, I mean Sammy, used to run for FPCHS and in 2003 he broke (and still holds) the FL State schoolboy record for the mile... a blistering 4:03! It's the fastest ever in Florida and was the second best high school time in the US that year. He's running again now, as an "independent" and trying to decide how far he wants to go with it. (Her daughter, JD, was also a very good runner at FPC and is now an over-achieving student at DBCC: "Mom, I got a 105% on my Anatomy test today, but I should have done better!") Anyway, based on Alex-Sammy's recommendation, we headed off to Bulow State Park. Top down... 91 degrees... radio blasting The Blizzard (93.3 FM in Flagler Beach)... and yes, we blew past our exit - by a lot. We were supposed to get off I-95 at Old Dixie Highway and it was only halfway between the new Harley Heaven, Destination Daytona, and the Granada Blvd. exit that it hit me. "Ha, ha, we did it again," I said. "No, we didn't," said she, "you did." Details, details. Then, capitalizing on the beautiful weather, I claimed the cheap victory. "It's better this way, really... like serendipity. We get to enjoy a little longer ride in the Florida sunshine." (I said nothing about the recent $3.09 cents/gal. premium gas fill up.) Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park is easy to find. It's just across the Volusia line into Flagler County, right off Old Kings Road, coming North from Old Dixie Highway. We put the top up to avoid the dust from the gravel road and drove the mile or so into the park, instantly consumed by the primitive feel of Old Florida. Towering palms, massive old oaks festooned with hanging moss, the smell of the pines... "Keep your eyes peeled for gators, rattlers, and water mocs," I said, all in the spirit of fun. "Thanks a lot - that's just what I needed to hear to set me at ease." Heh, Heh - girls sure are funny. We paid the $3.00 entry fee/per car (honor system) - got our parking pass and pulled up to a pleasant picnic area. A friendly park employee chatted us up and we got the scoop on the hiking trails. We walked a gorgeous path to the old Bulow Sugar Mill ruins and immersed ourselves in the rich history of the plantation. It's now a "ruins" because the place was burned to the ground in 1836, as a casualty of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). Because of the coquina construction, enough is left to tell a compelling story. The plantation produced four major crops - sugar cane, cotton, indigo, and rice. The sugar mill spun off molasses, "Liquid Gold," and shipped it to the Caribbean for the making of rum. The other crops found their way up the river to St. Augustine, Jacksonville, and Savannah, GA. Of course, the overriding social implication of the plantations was the dependency on the slave trade. I found myself trying to imagine the palpable sense of frustration and anxiety these slaves must have experienced during their years in bondage. I'm quite sure I didn't come close. Later, we walked down by the water and wallowed in the tranquility of this place, although the sign that read: "Beware of Alligators - No Swimming" kept us on our toes. As we drove away, we promised to make a list of all these places in our Central/Eastern Florida backyard - and visit them all! "When we get home, I'm going to watch the Golf Channel to see if Zach Johnson can follow up his victory at The Master's... If you like, you could wash the dust off my car." "We already left Bulow, big guy, your walk in the park is over."

Friday, April 13, 2007

"Seller's School"... Conspiracy?

We were eating breakfast at The Pier in Flagler Beach this morning and discussing recent appointments we'd had with potential home sellers. We were fairly certain that it would take a while for yesterday's blog post: "Newspaper Readers: Beware!" to sink in - and for us to reap the benefits! In the meantime, it has become quite apparent that there is a very real conspiracy afoot... We believe that there exists a clandestine "Seller's School" - a place where our future clients go to learn their scripts and dialogues. Let's take a look at a "listing presentation" (that's what we call it when we meet with you to obtain the right to represent you in the sale of your home) with a seller who has recently graduated from this secretive academy: Knock, Knock. "Well , hello there. Come on in and let us show you around our home. Let's start here in the living room." "Before we do that, perhaps we could sit at the table and talk about a few things?" "No, let's do this first, so you can see how valuable our home is! Now this carpet is pure wool - very expensive - and it has worn beautifully since we installed it - brand new - in 1987." "I don't want to appear critical, but is that cat urine I smell?" "Maybe, but Fluffy has been in cat heaven for over a year now and we open the windows, so it's not a problem." (Scribble, Scribble) "Now, moving along, we realize the kitchen is small and the appliances are older, but we see that as a valuable plus. It's easy to keep clean... and it's impossible to find Harvest Gold anymore. The older style Formica counter-tops are care-free, compared to granite and the fiber-board cabinets are much less expensive to repair than real hardwood. And who can reach the top of those silly 42" ones they try to push off on people today?" (Darn... This is gonna' be tough. They've been to "Seller's School") "... Thank you for showing us your home - we appreciate the tour. Now let's discuss the business side of things. How do you see the market affecting what you'd like to accomplish?" "Oh, we're very optimistic! One of the agents we interviewed yesterday (Was that the eighth one, honey?) said things were really picking up now - and that if we listed with her, she'd sell it quickly. They even said they'd put pictures of our house in the paper every day!" "Wow... sounds unbelievable! Now we like to talk to our clients about having realistic expectations. We approach it as a function of several important factors: Price, Condition, Location, Current Inventory, and Marketing, being critical..." "That's all well and good, but we need $150,000 clear out of this, so we can build over on the water. And, by the way, how much is your commission?" "Folks, we can show you current comparable sales that indicate a market price in the $275,000 range. With your current $180,000 mortgage payoff, our 6% professional fee, and a conservative 2% closing cost... that leaves you with only a little over $70,000 clear. That's about $80,000 shy of what you say you need." "Well, we think there's a buyer for every house and one will come along, if you people would run enough ads in the paper. And, another thing - we don't want a sign or a key lock-box, because we don't want the nosy neighbors to know we're for sale. And we don't want it shown unless by appointment, when we're home, and we're gone a lot. We want to list it with you, because we heard you were good, but we'll only do a 30 day agreement (like the nice man advised in the News-Journal)... and we'll only pay a 4% commission. etc., etc., etc. When can you start?" (Dear God, please help me.)

"Well, they certainly left in a hurry. You just can't find a good agent these days. Hey, I know! Let's do this "For Sale By Owner!" That way we can really maximize our profit! It should be easy, because we've been to "Seller's School!""

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"Newspaper Readers: Beware! (*DBEYR)"

I pick up the papers - or go to their websites - and I can't believe what I read. "Average property values drop $15,000 in Volusia and Flagler." Man, I just don't know where they get that stuff. I do know that statistics, taken out of context, can be used to tell horrific fibs. Years ago, I taught a statistics course for the University of Maryland (Heidelberg, Germany campus). I'd start the course with the following schtick: "OK, you're in a room with 100 people. 50 of them are new-borns in incubators... and 50 of them are blowing out the candles on their 100th birthday cakes. So, what's the average age of the people in the room?" Now, if you're a stickler for pure math, you know I'm fudging a little, but work with me. They'd stare blankly and then they'd ask, "What's the trick?" "No trick," I'd say. Finally we'd get to the fact that the average age in the room was 50 (ish)... Yet everyone in the room was 50 years younger or older than the "average!" You can't pluck a number from a formula and have it mean much on the street, unless you implement a significant amount of other cogent data. The dominant rule of real estate, contrary to common belief, is not "Location - Location - Location." It's pure "Supply and Demand!" And we are currently in a classic "Buyer's Market" (huge supply and weak demand)... from Maine to Miami and from Seattle to San Diego. It's reminiscent of the plunge of 1989 (except mortgage rates are "way better" now). Just drive around Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, Ormond and Daytona and you'll see the proof: Lots of builder inventory with tall grass and signs that shout things like, "Price Reduced," "Builder Incentives," "$1 Gets You In," "Free Boat with Waterfront Home," etc., etc.
We can share many examples that fly in the face of the "$15,000 drop-off" story. Salt water canal homes reducing prices from $900,000 to $725,000... High-end condos from $1,250,000 to $800,000... Builders dropping inventory from $237,500 to $199,000... And on, and on, and on. If you really want to sell... need to sell, make sure you get accurate information and advice! Right now, our market is hurting, if you're a seller... yet sweet, if you're a buyer. It was time - we needed the correction. We did the math last year and deduced that if appreciation rates of the past few years (20% per year!) had continued, the average home here (about $225,000) would be over $1,000,000, within ten years. That would take the $1,000,000 home on the water or in Hammock Dunes or the Ginn developments at Hammock Beach and punch it up over $6,000,000 in the same time frame. Although it sounds heady and fun, it would ultimately lead to local economic melt-down. What am I trying to say? If you want to sell your house in today's market: Get Good Advice! Don't go with the agent who pumps you up with the highest price for your home... or with the one who will work for next to "Free." Demand provable knowledge and experience from your agent. You know in your heart that you get what you pay for and this is a big deal for you. Many call them "commissions," yet the best can look you in the eye with confidence and talk about their "professional fee." They have earned that right over time. So, read the paper, but take it with a grain of salt. It's only a small piece of the real pie. And remember that a street smart real estate professional has the real scoop you'll need to be successful in this, or any other market! *(P.S. "DBEYR = don't believe everything you read)

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