Monday, August 3, 2009

"The Challenge of Race"

There's been quite a lot of coverage of the recent incident, involving Harvard Professor Gates and Cambridge Police Sergeant Crowley. Pretty volatile stuff. It was such a big deal that the President saw fit to weigh in. Before he knew all of the cogent facts, the President called the play like this: "The Cambridge police acted stupidly." Hey, I'm a Regular Army Officer (albeit retired) and President Obama is my Commander in Chief. But you have to know he wishes he could get that one back. The lesson here is that even the President of the United States is prone to occasional bad judgement, due to his human nature. Notice that I said due to his "human nature," not his "racial bias."
As I look around my small town of Palm Coast, Florida, it occurs to me that WE ARE ALL OF MIXED ORIGIN! That's right, very few AKC registered "pure breeds" anymore. So my Mom's folks were from County Cork, Ireland... and my Dad's from Slovenia. Ireland you know, but Slovenia? It flew a lot of flags over time and before gaining its recent sovereignty, was the northern province of Yugoslavia. Their birth records actually say "Austria," from "Austrian-Hungarian Empire" days! A real mix of Germanic, Italian, Slavic, and Turkish genes.
Then there is my wife, Maritssa, who is black. Let's see... two grand parents are strains of Puerto Rican Native Indian (Taino) and one is a Caucasian Spaniard and one is the descendant of African slaves sent to the Caribbean Islands.... (A great example of White Europeans hate-mongering... and Black Africans capturing and selling their own kind for favor and profit!) Now if you put the two of us in a blender, what would that be? Every time we disagree, me being white and she being brown, are we having a racial problem?
When I'm at Wal-Mart, I see white people with afros and skin from olive to porcelain, black people with blond hair and skin tones from light cream coffee to ebony, every manner of Hispanic and Asian, and Indian, and Pakistani, and European, and Russian, and African, and Middle Eastern... Whew! I suppose then that every issue... and every conflict... and every mis-understanding... between people who are different from one another... must be about "race," right?
I mean, look around for God's sake. This deal is not a new thing. People have been at odds with one another since the beginning of time. Throughout history, all tribes in all lands have enslaved their own kind, as well as others. They can't get it right in Ireland... is that a "White Thing?" Seems that in Africa, the Hutus and Tutsis have no problem hating each other... is that a "Black Thing?" Seems that the Iraqis and the Iranians have a "thing" there too. The Jews and the Palestinians?... Forget about it! And the atrocities doled out in and among the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans are age old. The list goes on - and it doesn't stop. To isolate this abomination and say, "it's a black-white problem in the USA," is just not right. No... It is a problem, for sure. But not just here. And not just black-white. And not just racially oriented.
Good Lord, people can even whip up very real hate for each other if they prefer one soccer team over another... or Dale, Jr., over Jeff Gordon... or Lebron over Kobe... or if they are pro-choice vs. pro-life. It gets so bad that Prius drivers look at you with scorn if you have an SUV! I saw a bumper sticker the other day (presumably an effort at red neck patriotism, by way of a poke at Hispanics) that said: "One Nation - One Flag - One Language!" This guy was not so bright, however, because his "All American" comment was stuck on the back of a Toyota mini-van, made in Japan! Might of had more ooompphhh on a jacked up Ford F-150 with a gun rack!
Like Jack Nicholson's great line... "We can't HANDLE the truth!" It's not as much about "race," as it is about our "flawed human nature." And human nature, at its core, is not pretty. Given the opportunity, "we can all hate each other equally, without regard to race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, age, gender, or national origin." We all have choices to make each day. We can choose hate or we can choose love. If you believe the bible to be true (or even just think it's "a nice book with some good ideas"), check out Matthew's gospel. In Chapter 22, the Pharisees asked Jesus what the most important commandment was (as they tried to "trick" him into "prioritizing" the 10 Commandments). His answer was so elegant and uncomplicated. He told them they could be summarized with two simple ways of being: First, love God above all else... and second, love one another the way we all want to be loved!
The "problem of race" is as elementary as our human nature. Does "racial profiling" exist? Yes, it does. Do both blacks and whites look at each other with just a smidgen of caution? Yes they do. If someone says, "There's not an ounce of prejudice in me," are they telling the truth? No, they are not. The good news, however, is that we can do the right thing... most of the time. The solution is as simple as choosing, more often than not, to live by these two commandments. It may not have been perfect, but having a beer together on the White House lawn was a step in the right direction... Except that the Prez and Prof Gates chose beers brewed by foreigners from Belgium and Jamaica. Oh, no! Here we go!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Real Estate Update

When I first started blogging, my intent was to focus on issues in Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, Bunnell... and Flagler County, in general. Because of who I am and what I do, it was to keep us up to date on the local real estate market, as well. Well, I've certainly talked about Palm Coast real estate and Flagler Beach real estate now and again, yet I've gotten away from it more than I like. So, I'm re-committing to cover issues of Flagler County real estate more often.
Maybe I've strayed from that focus because it hasn't been a lot of fun these past three and a half years. Kinda like a small town sports beat reporter, whose local high school football team is "0 - 36" over the past few years... It's just more enjoyable to write about victories. Well, to continue with the sports analogy, it looks like we're in a re-building year. You know what I mean? New coach... new game plan... a few key players transfer in from out of state. And the down trodden fans are eagerly awaiting the new season to begin.
The problem with the local paper (Daytona Beach News-Journal) is that Flagler County real estate stats always get lumped in with Volusia. Like this week, for instance, they said "we" experienced 661 home sales in June (up from 550 in June, 2008). That's good news, however only 153 of these were in Flagler County (up from 141 in June '08). They have a much higher population density, yet they just blend us together.
Another interesting tidbit, is that our Flagler County Association of Realtors Multiple Listing Service (MLS) shows that we have 3,194 total "Active or Pending Closing" property listings. Of these, 1,282 are either "short sales" or bank foreclosures. (Don't get me started on how totally inept most banks are in handling these so called short sales). Now, ALTHOUGH WE ARE SELLING MORE HOMES... THE PRICES ARE STILL FALLING!
That shouldn't be seen as a bad thing, because as an economic indicator, that scenario usually shows "the bottom." To temper that good news, we need to brace for one more round of foreclosures, as the last of those crazy adjustable rate mortgages ratchet up higher payments. That's tough to handle here, as we have had the highest unemployment rate in the State of Florida for 10 consecutive months. Ouch!
Look for increased sales numbers and a bit more downward pressure on prices for the rest of 2009. My crystal ball says that 2010 should clear out many of these distressed properties... thus paving the way for a climb out of this swamp. I'm thinkin' a slow, steady, predictable, balanced market will be back within a year from now. "Balanced," by the way, means that neither sellers nor buyers get to treat the others as though they rule the kingdom.

Monday, July 13, 2009

"The Turmoil Within... Which Way, America?"

I've always been interested in our government... or so I thought. Yet it was always "just there" - doing what it did - and staying between the lines. But now? Where are the lines?
I've been watching the History Channel on cable recently and have been overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of World War II. There has been nothing even close in recorded history that can match the depth and scope of the entire globe in chaos. Throw in the introduction of nuclear weapons and the implications are truly mind boggling. Here's what eats at me: The US WWII Generation fought against all odds - on multiple fronts - and won! The most massive statement for Democracy ever made! Afterward, that same generation took us for quite a ride. My economics professor for my Master's program at Georgia Tech called the period from 1945 to 1970, "The 25 Year Rocket Ride." It was... and is... the most impressive burst of output the world has ever known.
Ahhh, but my generation, the children of the great ones... we chose to slap their hand. Put a pin in the time line of history at 1968. That's when things started to change - and not for the better. When true democracy (by and for the people) is shoved aside for by and for Me, Me, Me... today's mess is what we get.
Our "sense of entitlement" is galling. But, hey, we all own General Motors now and soon we'll all own National Health Care, Inc., too! If you can afford to have a phone, call your friends in Canada and Great Britain and ask them how that's going for them.

Friday, June 26, 2009

"USAA Housing Market Report"

"In Search of the Real Estate Bottom" (This is a reprint from USAA's website. I have been a member of USAA since after Officer Candidate School in 1967. It just may be the finest financial company in America)
Industry analyst Joe Kalish of Ned Davis Research says indicators are finally moving in the right direction, but one key factor is missing. Posted: 06/23/2009
USAA: Joe, when we spoke in December, you said, "We have not hit bottom, and probably won't see one until the first quarter of 2009 at the earliest." What's your view today? Joe Kalish: We are much more positive and think that the market is in the process of putting in the bottom. January appears to be the trough in terms of total home sales. USAA: Are you telling us that the nightmare is over? Joe Kalish: I want to be careful in the terms that I use. We are confident that the market is in the process of putting in a bottom and that the worst of the declines is behind us. But the fact that sales probably bottomed in January does not mean that prices won't continue to decline. To the contrary, we expect them to go down nationally another 9% to 12% this year and the recovery process is likely to be a long one, lasting several years. Let me step back from the conclusions and focus on the evidence. At Ned Davis Research Inc., we became concerned about signs of speculation in the real estate market back in 2005. In 2007, we developed a set of eight indicators on the state of the housing markets and have regularly looked to these indicators to guide us. When we spoke to you in December, only two of the eight indicators were positive and as I told you then, consumer sentiment was falling apart. Today, only two of the eight indicators are negative, and we've seen a sharp turnaround in several key areas. USAA: Please go through your indicators for us, starting with the positives. Joe Kalish: First, mortgage rates have fallen to around 5%, the lowest in over 40 years. And along with falling home prices, they have created record affordability. Today, a family earning the median income of $60,000 can afford to buy a $300,000 home, which is well above the current median home price of $170,000 (with 20% down). The next big positive is new building activity, with both housing starts and permits at a post-war low. Builders are now building only what they can sell, when historically building has exceeded sales by about 400,000 units. Building permits are at less than one-third of their 10-year average, when at previous troughs in the market they were about half. Concerned about your investing decisions? USAA: Weren't these indicators also positive last December? Joe Kalish: Yes, but they are much stronger today. We can't work off the excess inventory that exists if we are still building new inventory and if people can't afford to buy homes, so the fact that these indicators are positive is absolutely essential to any bottoming and subsequent recovery. That brings us to our next indicator, the rate of decline in home sales, which bottomed in January and has since moved in a narrow range. Pending homes sales have turned higher, and when we get the existing home sales data for May, it could top last year's peak month. Perhaps the best news is that the markets that have been hit the hardest — Nevada, California, Arizona and Florida — are starting to clear. Sales are up 117% in Nevada over last year; 81% in California; 50% in Arizona, and 25% in Florida. These four "boom and bust" states accounted for one out of four sales nationally in the first quarter. Of course, credit conditions have vastly improved, as the spreads for mortgages relative to Treasury's have narrowed considerably. Another indicator that wasn't in our original list, but turned positive, is homebuilder confidence. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index bottomed in January, the same month that sales troughed, which is exactly what happened in the last major housing market downturn in 1991. So we have five positive indicators, and one neutral one, the S&P Homebuilders Index. This index of homebuilders' stock prices has gone higher in the big stock market rally since March 9, but it hasn't broken out in a way to signal all clear. USAA: That leaves two indicators, which must be negative. Joe Kalish: Yes, the picture isn't all rosy. The first problem is lack of end-user demand, as evidenced by the Mortgage Bankers' Association index of mortgage applications for home purchases, which doesn't include refinancing. While mortgage finance is obviously in much better shape than last December, the Index is near 10-year lows and down nearly 30% from a year ago. We need to see this pick up and break the downtrend. Finally, the inventory-to-sales ratio remains swollen. There's roughly a nine-month supply, well above the six months you would normally see in a healthy market. Unfortunately these nine months don't include shadow supply from owners who want to sell but don't have to, and therefore are waiting for prices to rise. USAA: What's the big picture moving forward? What should USAA members take away from this conversation? Joe Kalish: The worst may be over, but recovery will likely take a long time. The patient is out of the ICU because prices have come down far enough for investors to step in and buy. That doesn't mean the patient is healthy enough to leave the hospital. About 50% of all sales are distressed homes, such as short sales and foreclosures and many of the investors buying these homes aren't moving into them. We still have 17% more housing units in the country than we have households, a number that needs to get down to about 14% to correct the excess supply. Overall, sales bottom before prices. Should our call that sales bottomed in January prove correct, prices will probably fall another 9% to 12% by the end of the year. Real house prices are back to the 40-year trend line, so we've definitely squeezed the speculation out of the market. In terms of what gives us a truly healthy patient, it's employment. As we look back to previous downturns, what we see is housing prices stop falling when the unemployment rate peaks. When workers no longer feel they are going to lose their jobs, they are willing to take advantage of low prices and low mortgage rates. That leads to stability in pricing. In terms of prices actually rising faster than inflation, it happens when labor markets get tight. USAA: So we still have a way to go. Joe Kalish: Absolutely, but housing markets are beginning to clear, value is returning to the markets. This is neither the deepest nor the longest downturn on record. Even in normal cycles it takes a long time for the market to restore equilibrium.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"Get Off The Fence... It's Time To Buy!"

(Back in 1986, I was still an Army Officer, working for the Defense Intelligence Agency. After 20 years of service, I was preparing for a career change to become a Real Estate Broker. The first course I ever took was a Finance class taught by Pat Zaby and I've been a fan of his ever since. The following is from his recent newsletter. Hint: It Is A Smart Time To Buy Real Estate... NOW... because in the chart above, we are now at "Low Risk - High Opportunity)

You can sit patiently in a boat and wait for the fish to jump into it... or you can use the right bait and pro-actively go after them. Similarly, you can wait for buyers to get off the fence on their own or you can coax them down by understanding and communicating - the compelling reasons to buy a home now.
Too many people are slow to react and have a tendency to do as the "herd" does. This means that some of the best opportunities are missed. Many people, including REALTORS®, bought at the height of the market when the risk was the highest and the opportunity for gain was the lowest. The corrections that have taken place in the market and the economy have caused a shift in the cycle and - acting now offers lower risk and much better opportunity.

Reasons to buy now:

The Selection is tremendous – with more homes on the market, buyers have a better choice as to what fits their needs.

The Values are above prices – due to the increased supply on the market, prices are below actual values in many instances.

The Interest rates are incredibly low – current mortgage rates are lower than they've been in 50 years and we may not see them this low for generations. The interest rates can have as profound an impact on the cost of housing as the price of the home itself!

Tax advantages: Deduction of interest and property taxes... Capital gains exclusion... Favorable LTCG treatment on balance... Home Tax Credit.

Social benefits: Provides shelter and security... Provides stability – (12 years vs. 3 years; U.S. Census American Housing Surveys)... Encourages community involvement... Fulfills part of the American dream.

Here in Palm Coast, FL, I just sold a house to a Flagler County Firefighter/EMT. In 2005, the house would have sold for about $230,000. He got it for $127,500 and it appraised for much more. The hazard policy insurer required coverage for $192,000... Talk about great price and great value! If you're ready, call me... You don't want to miss the bottom!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Flagler County Fire & Rescue

Back in November, 2008, I had the privilege of sponsoring a portion of a local Firefighter-Paramedic competition. The local Flagler County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) competition team won against teams from all over Florida. The teams are subjected to a series of difficult scenarios and judged on their ability to handle the emergency situation in an timely and technically correct manner.
Make no mistake - these professionals are good... really good. The local team of Dennis Kline, Cody King, Caryn Prather, and Mike Pius (Left to Right in photo above) are National Champions (twice) and have 15 Top Ten finishes in events all over the country. Their prowess has earned them and a team from New York City an invitation to a multi-national event in Prague, Czech Republic!
Don Petito, the Flagler County Fire Chief, is proud of his folks. "It would be great if we could get everyone to try a competition, because there's so much to be gained from doing it," he said. Petito has a hunch that the event in Prague will include some sort of Swine Flu scenario, based on the recent outbreak and heightened media coverage.
Like in sports, teams have a tendency to "perform like they practice." Back in the day, when I was going through Army Officer Candidate School (OCS), we had a series of training films titled, "What Now, Lieutenant?" A difficult situation would be created and we'd be graded on how we responded... and there was always more than one way to solve the problem. Our paramedics train in a variety of settings, to include tornadoes, fires, floods, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, chemical spills, plane crashes, and marine emergencies.
The team raises money for competition fees and travel expenses with sponsorships, yard sales, spaghetti suppers, etc. If you read this and would like to make a contribution to these local Heroes and this worthy program... contact me at 386-931-1987 or, and I'll put you in touch with them. Also, you could visit my website at:
(Information, in part, from Daytona Beach News-Journal article by Heather Scofield and photos from David Massey)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Unbiased News? What's That?"

Maybe I was too young and naive... and not cynical enough, but I always thought that news should be delivered the way Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite did it. If you're not in your 50's yet, you're asking, "Who?" Just like the other day, when I was showing my son and his 21 year old girlfriend some old photos. I said, "This is me in Viet Nam at the Bob Hope Christmas Show at Chu Lai in 1968." I knew for sure I was "an older gentleman," when she said, "Who is Bob Hope?"
Back in high school (1959-1963), we were taught that "journalists" operated from a strong code of ethics. If not fully disclosed as "an opinion piece," all reporting was to be "fair and unbiased." We certainly have been whistling and skipping away from that quaint notion for some time now, haven't we? That sort of thing went bye-bye when the guy stopped coming out of the gas station to ask, "Fill er' up? Let me clean that windshield, check your oil, top off your washer fluid, and put air in your tires... OK, sir?"
What we have now causes me to scratch my head and wonder... Like the pictures above, we've got MSNBC way over on THE LEFT. You gotta' love Keith Olbermann and Campbell Brown. The Obama "love fest" is out of control. Way over on THE RIGHT, we get to watch Sean Hannity, the inimitable Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Laura Ingraham, Shepard Smith, and Bill O'Reilly's "Factor." They make it sound like the Revolution should start tomorrow. CNN claims middle ground, yet it's simply not so. Wolf Blitzer and Lou Dobbs and the gang are very "Links um die Ecke." Most network news, including CBS and ABC has a strong liberal bias. That is a factual statement. Some claim that because of the public funding the NPRs and PBSs of the world "have to be" unbiased. Please... No way... Left and Left, again!
For my disclosure statement, I'm a conservative political being. BUT... FOX News often makes my skin crawl. Here's my problem: I support about 80% of the message, but only about 20% of the delivery. So much anger! And all contrived! You know why this is, don't you? No matter where we stand politically, we can't change the fact that TV/Radio/News Paper/On Line "News" isn't really news. It's pure and simple "Entertainment."
So where does that leave us if we want some decent news? Try C-SPAN; it's boring, but it's pretty straightforward. For a view of "us" from "them," try BBC, or the perspective of the wonderful folks at Aljazerra. In the meantime, I'll be pining for the days of Murrow and Cronkite.

Monday, April 13, 2009

"Mind Games" from Mike & Mike

So Sometimes inspiration comes from where you least expect it... like, for instance, from sports talk show hosts on satellite radio. Now, I'm not a long haul trucker, but I have burned up about 3,000 miles/month over the past two years. My SIRIUS subscription was a great gift... and my fingers dance deftly from FOX to CNN to ESPN.... and then from Classical to Blues to Reggae to Oldies to Comedy Central. Oh, wait, there's PBS and BBC and maybe a quick inquiry as to the weather in Denver. If you were in the car with me, you'd be driven quite mad by my "adult ADD" tendencies, but it works for me. I find myself singing along with Bob Marley and the Wailers... "Don't worry about a thing - Every little thing is gonna' be alright," and then yelling at a news commentator on MSNBC with an opposing view to mine. Don't get me started about Blue Collar Comedy. I do a lot of wondering about the state of the world, only I do it out loud (... Know what I mean, Vern?) Anyway, I'm checking out "Mike & Mike" this morning on ESPN. Mike Greenberg is a cheeky, irreverent, non-ex-pro athlete analyst and Mike Golic is an ex-NFL defensive lineman and sort of like the guys on your bowling team, only smarter. They were providing their take on yesterday's Masters drama. I, by the way, was in the car for nine hours... driving from Chattanooga, TN, back to Palm Coast - and missed it all! Angel Cabrera wins it, while Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell are left to wake in the night for years to come, conjuring up what might have been... if only! The point the two Mikes were making, is the critical nature of "mental toughness." When standing over a 15 foot putt on the 18th green, at Augusta, on Sunday... to win the Masters, can you imagine the banshees that were competing for calm in Perry's head? You know the sports scenarios:
  • Down 4 points, 4th down, 3 seconds left in the Super Bowl, 30 yards from the end zone, last play of the game... Can the quarterback make the throw? Can the lineman make the block? Can the receiver make the catch? They've all done it before, under lesser circumstances.
  • 7th game of the World Series, bottom of the ninth, down 1, man on first, the count at 3-2... Can the batter put the inside curve out of the park... for all the marbles? I mean, he did win the Home Run Derby at the All Star game.
  • NBA Championship even at 3-3, down 91-89 in the 4th quarter, a three point attempt with 1 second on the clock... a foul! A slow walk to the line for 3 shots at victory... or despair? The guy has made 100 in a row at practice before, but what about now, in the surreal cacophony - for a place in sports history?

Golic and Greenberg were "right on" this morning. Was Michael Jordon more physically gifted than Scottie Pippin? Some would argue the opposite. How about those guys pedalling up the Pyrenees in the Tour de France? Minus the HGH and the lab-oxygenated blood, most of these athletes are merely marginally differentiated mountain climbing machines. Boxing, wrestling, MMA, tennis, rugby, hockey, track & field, skiing, swimming... any sport? The most compelling difference between the champions and the rest of the field is mental toughness. The "want to." The "need to." The ability to ignore the elephant in the room at the precise moment required.

I made myself a promise to go to school on this. My days of competitive sports are in the rear view mirror, but I do get up and go to work. And I do believe every aspect of our lives, including our response to this current economy, can be improved with a Golden Rule philosophy... and a dose of mental toughness! Thank you, Mike & Mike!

Monday, March 9, 2009

"Daytona Bike Week - 2009"

If you live anywhere near Daytona Beach and you've never experienced the phenomenon known as "Bike Week"... well, you don't know what you're missing. It would be like living in Orlando, never having been to Disney World... or living in Niagara Falls, never having actually visited The Falls!
Early last week, I saw a vendor featured in the Daytona Beach News Journal. "L.A. Lites" is an installer of LED lights, which illuminate your bike at night with "ground effect" reflection. Now a hard core old schooler would say, "Not for me," but I really like 'em. Not only do they look cool, but you can justify the expense to your significant other, by hawking the "safety benefits!" The truth is that many bikes are just plain hard to see on I-95 at night (not good) - and LEDs (see the middle photo above) light up the show (good).
Understand that Bike Week has a Rating System - just like the movies. If you want the "PG-13" version, just drive your family down International Speedway Boulevard and then up A1A to Granada and go back home. (We could keep this one "G," however, you'll have to be alert to block your kid's eyes, as the occasional thong, hiked up on the back of a Ninja or Hyabusa, speeds by). If the "R" rating sounds more intriguing, include a cruise up Main Street and then Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard. You want "XXX?" Repeat the "R" cycle after 10:00 PM and include late night stops at Froggy's, the Iron Horse Saloon, and Sopotnick's Cabbage Patch Bar. Don't you think that the sight of rather large women, wrestling in cole slaw, is sexy?
Well, I went to L.A. Lites on Saturday and got my LEDs installed. The vendor was on Mary McLeod Bethune Blvd. and it took about three hours to complete the work. To be honest with you, I never realized that there was a "Black Bike Week" within the "Bike Week" event. I spent those three hours in the middle of it and it was a hoot. I truly got to know the meaning of "minority," as I was only one of about three white folks I saw all afternoon. The "show" was amazing. An abundance of tricked out bikes of all kinds... and an abundance of tricked out people, as well. It was a friendly and festive atmosphere. I kept my eyes peeled for Viet Nam Veterans... I approached each one with our mantra, "Welcome home, brother!" "Who were you with?" "82nd Airborne - 1967." "Cool. I was with the 196th Light Infantry - 1968 & 69." "Long time ago, right?" "Yeah, but sometimes it seems like yesterday." "Lost a lot of buddies..." "Hey, man, nice to talk to you..." "You, too, brother - welcome home."
The food was a combination of "Southern" and "Island," with lots of collards, fried fish, ribs, and both fried and jerk chicken. Music poured out of many speakers - From Sam Cook and Wilson Pickett - to Bob Marley and the Wailers - to JayZ and Lil' Kim... (no Allman Brothers, Foghat, or ZZ Top here!) The smells and sights and sounds were pure sensory overload. The element that really got my attention was the tremendous and overwhelming ethnic pride in President Obama. Half the T-shirts and souvenirs were "Bike Week" and the other half? "Obama!" I think I finally got it... what his election means to black Americans. Personally, I'm a Conservative Republican, but I'm sure rooting for this guy, now that the people have cast their votes!
By comparison, when I cruised up Main Street on my way home, things seemed a bit tame!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Father Tom's Sunset Cruise"

How to begin? He lived an Awesome life... Father Tom Zedar... and he was my brother.
And to be sure, I am my brother's brother. When we were together, we would scare each other with our fraternal and familial sameness. But when we were kids, we grated on each other's version of happiness. He was a "good" boy and preceding me by six years through St. Ambrose school, created certain challenges for me. The nuns, you see, remembered him. Sister Honorine, the school's unspoken matriarch, was also the Latin teacher. And guess who the President of the Latin Club had been? Hint: not me! "Rambunctious" would be a good word for me back then... and the coup' de grace' came when she asked, "Franky, why can't you be more like your big brother, Tommy?" "Oh, Sister," I thought... "If you only knew what I know!"
This short piece is not about Tom's life, as there's no way to do justice in such limited space. This is more of a short "farewell." I cannot, however, imagine a life more full than was his. He was a giver - caring and compassionate to a fault. He gave his life to the Priesthood. His lifelong ministry touched thousands with the unimaginable grace, forgiveness, truth and love of God. Those who were near him knew that there was something very special about him... and the love that he lived was real.
This is also a "Thank you" to the staff and parishioners of San Antonio Catholic Church in Port Charlotte, FL. Sister Colleen, Linda, Renee, Father Jacek, Father Christopher... You will never know the fullness of what my family and Tom's visiting friends experienced at your hands. The entire staff convened quickly and unselfishly created the most beautiful wake and funeral service that we could imagine. To use my daughter's words, "We were wrapped in a blanket of constant love for two days."
This was my brother's church, from which poor health forced him into early "retirement" in 2006. He started it as a mission from another larger church in September of 1992. He was the founding Pastor and always so thankful for the amazing assistance he received from his talented and giving parishioners. He used to quip that "the seminary never taught us much about real estate development." He was so proud of what you all, as a team, did over the years.... as you "welcomed all - proclaimed the gospel - celebrated the Eucharist - and shared the laughter and the tears."
One of Tom's unique legacies was his ability to turn the sadness of a funeral into a celebration of someone's life. He'd ask everyone to picture a beautiful shoreline and to feel the warmth of the sun on their faces. "Look," he'd say, "There is your loved one now... on a magnificent sloop - sails full with the tropical breeze... cruising toward the horizon and the enviting sunset." He'd have them waving goodbye, as the boat sailed out of sight. "But, wait," He'd say, "Beyond the horizon, there are others also waving." Only these were waves of welcome on a distant shore... the waves of those who had gone before... but now were waiting with open arms... to welcome them home to their eternal reward.
Well, we did that for Tom. The photo at the top, left, is Father Tom's Sunset, as seen from the shores of Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda. If you look real close... just under the setting sun... you can catch a glimpse of his farewell wave...

Saturday, February 7, 2009

"The 2009 Real Estate Reality"

If Yogi Berra had a shot at this, he'd say, "Ya know, 90% of a recession is half mental!" Now the truth is that our current situation is a cocktail of Wall Street Greed, Banking Ineptitude, Consumer Foolishness, Global Economic Confusion, and good old fashioned Fear, fueled by the media's incessant need to print garbage... all shaken, not stirred. That having been said, it's a mess and we need to consciously work our way out of it.

I've been a Real Estate Broker for the past 22 years and I've seen some ups and downs. Prior to that, as a career Army Officer and a housing consumer, I once was the proud owner of a 16.75% Veteran's mortgage in 1981, near my job at the Pentagon. And that wasn't half bad, considering they had topped off at over 20%! Makes today's rate of 5% seem pretty good, hmmm?

If you are a buyer today, prices are low, rates are low, and inventory is abundant. And you are operating from a position of vengeance... getting back at the way sellers treated you from 1995 to 2005. Most, however, are being fooled by the saturation of so-called "short sale" listings, most of which are presented at unrealistic prices. These are predominately nightmare transactions and not for the timid. It's a chaotic market, comprised of angry, emotional sellers, ill-advised agents, and uncooperative banks. It often seems that the bank's strategy is to run in circles, hoping for some magic "bailout money" to save the day. Shame on them - They were the ones just 2-3 years ago, giving 120% ARM financing, at 3% initial interest, on $500,000 homes... to people making $30,000 a year! About 75% of current Flagler County MLS listings under $200,000 are "short sales." The bad news is that they play havoc with "real" market pricing and nationally, fewer than 10% ever close.

So now you are a seller in this chaotic quagmire. What to do? Here are some thoughts, based on a great deal of "hands on"experience:

  1. If you don't have to sell now - Don't! If you can wait it out, real estate equity rewards the long term.
  2. If you're "moving up," say, from a modest home to a larger, nicer one - to accommodate a growing family - Good timing! It always pays to move "up" in a "down" market. You may take a big hit on your sale, but think of the "net gain on equity" when you let me help you negotiate a great deal on the new house!
  3. Keep emotions out of your sales mix. Although Duke's basketball team often beats my Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, I admire their coach, Mike Krzyzewski (how do you get "Shashefski" out of that?)... Why? Because he is a master of objectivity. His system of recruiting and coaching is based on logic... and it works.
  4. There are far more homes for sale, than there are buyers to purchase them. The supply-demand curve is quite steep in the buyer's favor. If you bought IBM stock for $200 a share, you won't like today's high of $96, but that's the market. Simply put, it is what it is!
  5. Don't be angry at the market. It will only keep you from selling.
  6. Remember "Location, Location, Location?" Well, it's been replaced by, "Price, Price, Price."
  7. Fix it up! It used to be that you fixed it up to get more money, and to en extent, that's still true. However, the real reason is to stand out in a market crowded with old, dirty, ill-maintained, trashed properties. You don't have to renovate the whole house, but cleaned carpets, fresh paint, and landscaping go a long way to separate you from the crowd (whatever your price range). Your mantra should be, "It's Showtime!" There is a reason why model homes look so good... They make you want to buy them!
  8. The rules are the rules. If you live on the Ocean or the Intracoastal Waterway... or on a Salt Water Canal... or in Hammock Dunes/Island Estates... or Hammock Beach or Ocean Hammock, etc., your situation is not exempt. The crazier that prices got on the high side... well, that's the crazier they may get on the low side. Those stories about $750,000 building lots on the golf course selling at auction for $250,000? They're true!
  9. Don't be guilty of these classic seller stances:
  • "We don't want to give it away."
  • "In order for us to do what we want to do, we need $________ at closing."
  • "Let's just try it at this higher price and see what happens."
  • "We expect our agent to run lots of ads and hold open houses."
  • "Let's try this on our own... Let's be For Sale By Owner."
  • "The market is so bad that an agent can't really help us."
  • "Well, another agent said we could get a whole lot more for the house."
  • "Our home is better than all the others."
  • "We heard that the house down the street sold for $________."
  • "Our price shouldn't be affected by all the distress sales."
  • "If it doesn't work out, we'll just give it a rest and try again in a few months."
  • "We can always rent it out and sell next year... when the market is better."

If you are thinking of selling, test your "motivation mindset." Where is your need to sell, on a scale of 1 - 10? Today's reality? It's all about price and motivation. How's this for a cautionary closing statement:

"If you're not at least an 8... Wait!"

Monday, February 2, 2009

"Captain Robert Sutcliffe - WWll Fighter Ace"

Robert Sutcliffe passed away on January 30th, 2009, leaving a loving family and 89 years of incredible memories behind. In many ways, he was just a normal Joe. He loved his wife and kids and grand kids. He loved his country. He worked hard and built a great life. He was a gentle soul who spent many hours, crafting stained glass figurines and hand-carved birds... creating one unique bird each year. Robert also loved to fly his Piper Cherokee and took many trips with his wife of 65 years, Jane, to their summer place on Lake Winnipesaukee.
But from 1942 to 1945, Robert Sutcliffe was a warrior. Robert, you see, was a member of this nation's "Greatest Generation." The ones who grew up in the Great Depression and then sacrificed so unselfishly throughout the chaos and calamity of World War Two. Without their bravery, only God knows what may have become of this planet, caught in the vice grip of The Japanese Rising Sun in the Pacific and Nazi Germany in Europe. After the war, these same guys and gals came home and worked - hard - and led this nation into amazing prosperity. As they have drifted off into retirement, so too has this nation drifted off...
"The campaign in New Guinea is all but forgotten, except by those who fought there. Battles with names like Tarawa, Saipan, and Iwo Jima overshadow it. Yet Allied Operations in New Guinea were essential to the U.S. Forces liberation of the Philippine Islands from Japanese occupation. Without the battles fought and won in New Guinea, the Central Pacific Front may well have crumbled." (Gordon R. Sullivan, General, U.S. Army)
Look at the photos above. That's 1Lt. Sutcliffe and "Brown Eyes," his incredible P-47 Thunderbolt, in which he became a Fighter ACE in New Guinea in 1944. The following is a portion of an actual war correspondent's dispatch, from New Guinea, on March 19th, 1944:
"U.S. P-47 Thunderbolts caught a Japanese "Ki.43" fighter over Wewak. 1Lt. Robert Sutcliffe, of the 342nd Fighter Squadron, shot it down. Sutcliffe sighted about 16 Japanese fighters at 7,000 feet and led his flight of 4 P-47's in chase. He flamed an enemy fighter on his first pass at only 20 yards range. Then, at speeds over 400 mph., Sutcliffe and his wingman zoomed up for another pass, but the Japanese fighters had fled. At the end of the day, Sutcliffe returned to base with his fourth confirmed kill."
His wife, Jane, and his three boys, Robert, Peter, and David and their wives... as well as his sister, Mina... Along with six grandchildren... and six great grandchildren, will miss him dearly. And so should all of us. His son Peter and his wife Priscilla are friends of mine. Peter tells me his Dad will be buried in a Veteran's cemetery in New Jersey... where WW ll vets are being laid to rest... every 30 minutes... 5 days a week! May God rest the soul of Captain Robert Sutcliffe and his comrades-in-arms. We owe them a debt of immense gratitude... and we had better learn the lessons they teach, before they are all gone.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"Serving Those Who Serve"
So, check it out... The center photo above is the military unit patch of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, US Army. For 17 years, I wore it proudly on my uniform's right sleeve... a spot reserved for only a unit you served in combat with. That would be in 1968-69, in Viet Nam, where I was a platoon leader. Forty years ago, now... on another planet... in another world.
It was there, however, that the concepts of service and loyalty and mission achievement were born for me. I "did my 20" and having started out as a Private E-1 with a high school diploma, I left the Pentagon as a Major with a BS from the University of Tampa and a Master's Degree from Georgia Tech. Not bad for a small town boy of humble origins. And, like the recruiting poster said, I "Joined the Army and Saw the World!"
But now, I WAS A CIVILIAN AGAIN! When I was getting out, I thought I'd end up with one of the "Beltway Bandit" corporations. But I really wanted to break away and be a "real" civilian. My boss/mentor at the Pentagon was a very senior guy and had fixed me up with Hughes Aircraft - Great money and benefits, but that "civilian" thing kept calling me. I told him I thought I wanted to be a Real Estate Broker. My lament was that I didn't know if I could ever "sell" anything. "Hogwash," he said, (He really used another word of similar meaning, but this is a family blog)... "You've done a great job here at the Pentagon selling your ideas, haven't you?" Well, that did it. I got my Real Estate License in 1986 and haven't given much thought to Hughes Aircraft. As an aside here, the office I worked in at the Pentagon?.. Right where the plane went in during the terrorist attack on 9-11. I can only imagine...
So now I've got to say I've had a great run - and don't have any plans to stop. A year or so ago, I decided to re-energize my real estate business. An amazing trainer, Michael Russer, aka "Mr. Internet," ( see: or ) encouraged the pursuit of a "target market," - one that could be served with unbridled passion and enthusiasm. One that you knew something about - a subject matter expert.
It all came rushing in - "Serving Those Who Serve" - That was it! When you talk about Military, you also think about Firefighters and EMT Rescue folks. In the same breath, it's Law Enforcement officers of all types. The common bond? All of them "Walk in Harm's Way." That "Band of Brothers and Sisters" stuff you hear about? Believe me, it's real.
As time went by, it became obvious to me that there were two other types of "Community Heroes" to add to my service sphere: Teachers and Nurses! Maybe they didn't drive a tank or carry a gun or run into burning buildings, yet they faced challenges of an enormous nature... And they served us in an amazing way.
So there you have the beginnings of: If you - or someone you know - is a Military Veteran... or Active or Retired Military, Fire/Rescue, Law Enforcement, Teacher or Nurse... This is for them. It's good ANYWHERE IN THE USA. All they have to do is Call Me First, before they engage in substantive dealings with another real estate professional. It's a program that provides some great benefits, networking, rebates, discounts, camaraderie, counselling, and professional competence.
There has not been a better time to BUY REAL ESTATE in the last 40 years! Prices are crazy low and mortgage rates are so attractive. I'm here at RE/MAX Oceanside if you need me! If you are one of these deserving community heroes, What Are You Waiting For? Be advised: When the market starts to recover, hang on to your hat. It will do so with a vengeance! Click Here:-)

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