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.

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