Riches in Real Estate

Real Estate is frustrating sometimes. In a down market, it’s hard to sell houses. Your listing customers believe,and want you to act like, they are your only customer. Your buyers believe that every house on the market is open 24 hours a day waiting for you to take them by. They both believe you should be the Henry Kissinger of Real Estate and bend the other parties to your will, getting unimaginable concessions from the other side. Both sellers and buyers believe that you are a robot and need 15 minutes of sleep per night in order to slavishly work on their unique and pressing problems. Still, it’s the best gig I’ve every had and I should have changed careers long ago. I’m thankful, so thankful, for the opportunity to be my own boss, and to serve a great community like Artesia. So many things are right in Real Estate, I almost forget about the things that are wrong.

Next week families will gather all over the country to give thanks, or at least they should. America has taken a few hits recently. Our once invincible economy has shown signs of deep fractures and fissures that many of us were surprised to see. Our standing in the world has diminished, and we face new and growing threats to our way of life. In my own life, when things are going wrong, nearly all of the time I can blame the fellow in the mirror. It’s no different with our country’ malaise. We made this bed and now we’re lying in it, but we can get up and make a new bed if we choose. Still, look around the world – we have it so good comparatively.

My daughter asked me recently how much money would it take to be “rich.” I said it depends on who you ask. She pushed more with how much would we need to be rich? I said we ARE rich and we don’t need anything. The truth is, if you are reading this, you are rich. You have a computer, an iPad, or a smartphone with which you are able to visit my blog and read my ramblings. Those are the luxury appurtenances only the rich can afford. When you consider that over 2 Billion souls live on less than $2 a day, the last thing they would list as a necessity would be whatever you are using to read this. We are blessed beyond comprehension and we ought to give thanks.

Gather with your family. Eat gluttonously. Watch football and parades. Hold those whom you love. In the midst of it all, thank Him from whom all blessings flow and remember. Remember those who are far away defending your right to turkey and stuffing. Remember those who are eating their meal at a rescue mission and wondering if their families remember them. Remember those around the world to whom it’s just another day of surviving. Remember you are rich.

All Real Estate. All the Time.

Mr. Takacs Goes to Washinton

This week I am going to veer away from Real Estate a bit. It’s related somewhat, as our economy struggles, and our elected leaders in congress and the White House fail to make the connection between it’s weakness and housing. It always has to do with real estate in some fashion. My rant today is going to be about the once vogue, now passe’ topic of term limits. We need them. We need them for all elected officials and I’m going to tell you why. I think I have figured people out and we are corruptible creatures, and power corrupts. I will illustrate why anybody would need term limits, if elected to – let’s just say for this illustration– the U.S. House of Representatives.

Suspend disbelief for a moment, and walk with me down an imaginary life that might or might not happen. Right now, I have a very comfortable life. I make a good, but not obscene, living as my own boss in Real Estate. I am confident that after being in the business for several years, I will be making a very comfortable, hopefully bordering on the obscene living, in the aforementioned profession. Now imagine that my kids are grown and making obscene amounts of cash in their own lucrative professions, and the lovely Mrs. Takacs has retired from education and is consulting, or speaking, or writing books and we are in the fabled “cat-bird’s seed.” At this point in my life it occurs to me that my civic duty to “give back” includes a run for the US House seat in Southern NM. Public service is a noble pursuit I tell myself, so I set out. Again, in my hypothetical world, I run, I win, and soon I’m a Freshman Congressman in Washington DC. The salary of $174,000 per year is a nice topping on my otherwise adequate resources, but I’m not doing this for the money. No. I’m doing it for the children.

I’m off to DC for my first session in congress. It’s great. I have a great apartment in Georgetown, paid for by you, and the first few nights I’m taken to very swanky restaurants and filled with liquor and lobster by lobbyists. The work begins, so I lay off the hooch for a few days to regain my strength for what I think will be a grueling session of “standing my ground” and “defending the little guy.” It turns out the sessions aren’t so grueling after all. In fact, it’s pretty much a come-and-go affair where you literally pick your battles and spend the rest of the time rubbing elbows in the halls and chatting up your staff and interns. Access to a first-rate gym facility gets my fitness juices flowing again and I’m feeling and looking pretty good. I settle into an easy rhythm and Mrs. Takacs and I are having a fabulous time seeing the sights and eating like kings. A few moths in and we haven’t paid for a single meal or night at the theater or museum admission. It’s sort of like being royalty and it begins to grow on me. My eyes are opened somewhat to the largely fruitless and feckless exercise known as legislating.

During my first recess, I come back home to New Mexico to reconnect with my constituents. I attend meetings at local civic clubs and I’m asked to speak at functions, fairs and town halls. Life is pretty mundane at home though, and I begin to miss the comfort, convenience and luxury of Washington. Of course, before I am able to get too restless, I’m invited to a couple junkets to Europe and Asia to tour some water treatment facilities and “out of the box” schools. These are paid for by lobbyists, of course, and no expense is spared from first class seats on flights to five star hotel stays to golf outings, and lavish galas while in country. These “educational” trips are a nice break in the monotony of the high desert of New Mexico. Before I know it, I have to be back in DC for meetings and talks to gear up for the coming session. A senior colleague asks me if I’ve begun work on my re-election campaign. No, I answer – I just got here. He informs me that to stay in Washington, you NEVER stop campaigning. I wonder to myself – do I really want to perpetually campaign for office?

When I decided to run, I thought that serving one or two terms would be enough, but I now begin to feel that the lifestyle afforded to a congressman may be too good to let go of easily. All of my colleagues talk constantly about how they are working to stay, not to be. It seems to be the reigning espirit de corps. Not just the elected man or woman themselves, but their staff, their families, their interns all seem to have their hopes and dreams pinned to that person staying in office. It is a group effort. They are unabashedly protective of their positions and perks. Slowly, the reasons for getting into politics fade into the growing sense of elitism and entitlement I feel as one of our Nation’s leaders. I realize soon enough, I don’t know if I can go back to being who I was. I don’t want to go back to selling real estate in Artesia, New Mexico. I don’t want to play golf everyday at Artesia Country Club, when I could be playing at Congressional and not paying for it. I don’t want to be isolated from the free dinners, trips, entertainment or the Per Diem and fuzzy expense reimbursement policies of the US House. I have it too good now, and over time I realize that I never want to give those things up.

It is thus decided over a period of time, not suddenly, that I will stay as long as I can in this penthouse of power. My energy and industry will, from this point forward, be dedicated to preserving the feather bed where I now lie. Power has had its way with me, and I succumb to its intoxicating elixir completely. When I speak to people, one individual or a convention hall full of them, I no longer truly believe the words that spring from my lips. The slogans that I campaigned on about removing barriers to business, protecting freedoms, and empowering the disenfranchised are empty promises now. Don’t get me wrong, I still plan to vote for bills I ought to vote for and against bills I ought to be against, given my right or left affiliation (It doesn’t really matter which side). But those are more about establishing myself as a good party member and pandering to the particular political bent of my district than doing the right thing. I would vote for a bill to slaughter puppies if it meant the party would inject cash into my reelection war chest in the next cycle. Power corrupts, and it’s work is compete in me.

The problem is that this illustration is reality in every corner of our Government. I used myself as an example and allowed my imagination to follow the thread of truth, but it’s not wild fantasy to travel down this imagined future. The only way to prevent the compete seduction of fallible humans by the power of leadership is to make sure they can’t stay permanently. If you know going in that you have two terms to serve and that’s it, the paradigm changes. Lobbyists won’t be willing to grant you lifetime memberships to their luxury and leisure associations. You won’t be as likely to be influenced by them, since you came here to work. You won’t allow yourself to become accustomed to the lifestyle of Washington, because you know you’re not a permanent resident.

It’s time we brought the idea of term limits back up for every elected official in our government. The crystal palaces our leaders have made for themselves are an affront to the reality of most working Americans today. We’ve allowed this class of “servants” to create a completely different America than the one where you and I live. It’s time to pull them back into our America and make sure we keep them here while they make rules for everyone. Many things need fixing, but this is one step we could take quickly in the right direction.

All Real Estate. All The Time.

 

 

Picture This

I really want to be a good photographer. I have always imagined myself capturing the very best moment in any event. I see the pictures I want to take in my mind. In theory, I capture the perfect light, the perfect confluence of movement, the truest emotion in every picture I snap. The execution is what fails me. I have neither the knowledge, the training, nor the equipment to do justice to the groundbreaking photos in my head. But I am stepping up my game.

Photography is a strange art. I have met people with enough training and experience to fill 3 lifetimes with pictures. I have met some with the very best equipment. Still some of these same photogs just don’t seem to have that certain “eye” to capture the feel or energy of a moment. On the other side of the coin, I have met some peeps that with a point and shoot camera capture pics that I was certain were taken with all the latest lenses and filters. It is very much akin to the painter who can seemingly create light and warmth and can give life to a scene that was not there previously. In some ways, I think photography is the more difficult endeavor. God either gave you the gift to paint or draw or He didn’t. Taking pictures can be learned, but the elusive “eye” for the right moment is often a mixture of the gift and the learning. Some, like me, have just enough knowledge to be dangerous and it remains to be seen if there is some gift lurking just beneath the surface.

I have been rat-holing little bits of extra cash for a while now, hoping to save enough for the camera rig that will unleash my inner Ansel Adams. I finally got the scratch together and took the plunge. Parts have been coming in all week and hopefully today I will get home to the package on the doorstep containing the body. I am anxious to begin reading manuals and trying out the goods in real life for a change. For you photo-philes out there, here’s the 411 on my setup. Sony A33 body with 18-55mm kit lens. Sony 75-300mm F4.5-5.6 telephoto and Sony 50mm F1.8 portrait lenses. My budget didn’t allow for a hot-shoe flash or the myriad other accessories possible. It’s isn’t the best money can buy, but it was the best my money could buy right now. If I discover I am the next great American photographer, then I can upgrade along the way.

I love pictures. They can reveal so much or they can disappoint greatly in their lack of revelation. Real Estate pictures so often fall into the latter category. When I see most pictures of properties, I generally get the feeling that the picture taker was living by the mantra “just the facts.” I am throwing myself under the bus on this too. My listing photos are often lifeless, stale, and rigid fact sheets. They often give nothing in terms of the feel and energy of the space or location. I want to fix this and I am going to try to learn as much as possible to give life to my pictures. This is all part of becoming a better Realtor. And giving each home the quality exposure they deserve.

So join me on this journey. I welcome your advice, instruction, and criticism if offered gently. I will keep you apprised of my triumphs and tragedies.

All Real Estate. All the Time.

Fear and Loathing on Wall Street

The “Occupy” movement sweeping across the nation and, even the world, baffles me. I don’t, for one minute, want to take away the rights of Americans to peacefully assemble, protest, or march in support of a cause. My grandfather used to say that he went to Korea to defend the right of everyone, even idiots, to say freely what they believe. The flashpoint of the movement seems to be that they are just now figuring out that in America, we have some very rich people. And it seems to further anger the OWS people that these very rich folks are still rich despite the nasty recession in which we find ourselves. I hate to be the one who bears bad news, but that’s the way it has always been and will always be. Protesting won’t change it. Drum circles won’t change it. Clever signage along the picket lines won’t change it. But I have some ideas of what will.

There is injustice in the world. Some have more than they can possibly ever use while many have less than what is required to live. It’s unfair. I hate it. Over 2 billion people in this world eek out an existence on $2 a day. It’s deplorable that so many live like that with the incredible wealth available the world over. Income disparities in our US of A are atrocious too. Many live hand to mouth and jobs are hard to come by in this age. I get it. It sucks. But could somebody please explain to me how living in a tent in a public park and chanting is going to solve these problems? I have seen some of the participants interviewed by reporters and there are always a couple of key questions asked and the answers are always the same. “How long are you going to stay here?” and “What would have to happen to make you give up and go home?” The now very predictable answers are respectively “As long as it takes.” and “Until things change.” OooooKaaaaayyyy… That doesn’t exactly qualify as a plan of action with clear objectives, and attainable goals. And that’s my point. How exactly does the movement hope to effect change when they don’t even know what change they’re after?

There are real things that can be done here and now to effect change. The first is put your money where your mouth is. There are hundreds of great organizations and nonprofits helping people all around the world. Some of them feed children or drill water wells or educate the illiterate. Here at home we have food banks, job assistance programs, and training academies for those needing to re-purpose their skill-set. If you see a need that’s not being met in your community, start your own organization and meet that need. The point I’m making is that its not wrong to be angry at the gross injustices in our society. We should be angry and then let that anger spur us to action – not to inaction disguised as activism. Wall street execs are not going to give up their multi-million dollar bonuses because of a tent city and candle-lit marches. Government is not going to crack down on fraud and corruption and abuse in the financial system because your clever sign calls a spade a spade. The unemployed are not going to find work because of your chants that demand they be given jobs.

Doing nothing gets nothing. But doing nothing in something’s clothing is counter-productive. The people who have participated in this movement all across the country could have such a great impact for good, if they only did something. Instead of sweeping the land as agents of change by doing, they have become drains and a blight on the communities they sincerely want to help. The ideas are noble and have some merit. The underlying compassion is real and I respect it. But as with so many ideas, the execution is the hard part, and with OWS, the execution has failed to deliver.

All Real Estate. All The Time.

Good Intentions and the Road to Hell

So today’s blog is going to be local – that is about Artesia-specific issues. My apologies in advance to the millions of readers not in Title Town. Our fair city, in a misguided attempt to “protect” its citizens, is proposing an ordinance requiring owners of rental properties to submit to inspections and bring up to code any infractions. To any and all who may be reading this: I oppose the ordinance. Here’s why:

Artesia has a severe shortage of available rental properties right now, and this shortage has existed for some time. This ordinance will only compound the problem. Are some rental spaces dilapidated, dirty, and unsafe? Probably. Do the tenants have a right to leave such an environment – yes. Per applicable law, tenants can break a lease and have legal recourse if basic necessities like heat, water, electricity are lacking or serious safety or health hazards are present within the unit. Why then do we need another layer of regulation, bureaucracy, and government between the landlord and tenant? We don’t. An already serious shortage of rental space will be exacerbated by such an ordinance, and we as a community are already suffering the effects of the tight rental market. I personally know of several companies wishing to relocate or open a branch location in Artesia. Companies that would hire workers, pay taxes, pump money into our economy, who have chosen other cities in the area due to the fact they felt their employees would not be able to find places to live. This is real net-loss in terms of capital, tax revenue and opportunity every time Artesia is passed over.

The Law of Unintended Consequences comes into play here as well. If this ordinance is passed and it becomes hard to provide rental units for the lower income segment of our community, you will see shanty towns spring up just outside the city limits to take up the slack. If I had the resources to do so, and no moral compass, I would buy some acreage outside the city limits. Then I would buy as many single wide trailers – perhaps FEMA trailers at an auction – as I could afford and place them on the acreage in neat rows and rent them to those displaced by the ordinance. Problem solved? No. Problem shifted. Buck passed. In a few years the same problem exists with regard to tenant safety and protection, but the City will have no jurisdiction. Already, some of the most egregious examples of tenement-esque rentals are outside the city limits. Passage of this ordinance just strengthens the position of the slum lords who own and operate them.

It puzzles me to see the blighted houses and buildings all around town that have been there for years. We all know that these structures pose safety and health concerns to our community, but there seems to be no movement on the part of our city leaders to rectify these. Yet if weeds grow in the alley behind my house, without fail, I will get a letter from code enforcement. But now we need another regulation? Let’s fix the important issues first. This ordinance only makes the lives of everybody harder. Landlords are looking at expenses they may not be able to afford. Tenants are looking at increased rents. Many property owners will simply evict their tenants and shutter the properties due to the ordinance. In a few years we will have more blighted shacks that never get torn down. Who exactly does that help?

I understand the intent is good. Those who are advocating this ordinance want to improve the lives of people. But look around for a minute. Our country has just about “good intentioned” ourselves right out of business. Every regulatory action began with the best of intentions, but so many lacked the forethought required to see the very real and negative impact many degrees away. This is bad for Artesia. Let your city leaders know how you feel about it.

All Real Estate. All The Time.

Autumn Rising

Fall is in the air and I love it. I wish we had more autumn in our autumn, but I’ll take it over 107 every day. The crispness in mornings and the cool evenings are the best. I can honestly say I am a cool weather fan. It would be fine with me if it were perpetually 70 degrees with a slight chill in the breeze. I love it. Along with the cooler temps, there is October baseball happening and that’s another reason I love this time of year. Although my team decided not to participate in the postseason, I still love the atmosphere and drama of MLB playoffs. I can still enjoy the games even if I don’t have a dog in the fight. Everything just feels more American in the fall. Baseball, leaves turning, cool weather – it all conspires to infuse life with feelings of nostalgia and a longing for another place and time.

Something as American as baseball, apple pie, piles of leaves, and family is a home. Americans own homes in greater numbers and at a much higher percentage that almost anywhere in the developed world. Our country was created because people came looking for a place they could own and call home. That spirit of yearning to own property, no matter the size or style, is still present in our collective psyche today. We all hope to own a home, some land, or perhaps a farm or ranch, and be able to call it ours. Its what we teach our children – to work hard, be wise with money, and buy into the American dream.

 

That dream is in trouble today. Home ownership is consolidating upward, like our farming and livestock industries, in large investors and companies. With the downturn in the economy and housing market, many Americans have been unable to keep their homes. Foreclosures have increased every year for the past 3 and there doesn’t seems to be any signs of a reversal. With so many cheap homes on the market, and mortgage lenders tightening to point of choking out huge chunks of working families, investors and corporations are snapping them up en masse.

Congress is threatening to make the problem worse with legislation being considered that would further price middle-class borrowers out of the game. We are quickly heading toward an America where only the rich can buy and own property, and the rest of us become tenants. It has to stop. The disconnect in state houses and Washington with the reality of how the economy and recovery need housing is inexplicable. They need to hear our voices and know we can’t afford more barriers between decent, hard working, trustworthy folks and the American dream. Let them hear you. It benefits us all to get housing moving again.

All Real Estate. All The Time

The Green, Green Grass of Home

I plagiarized this from the Albuquerque Journal. I have been reading about overseeding my Tall Fescue lawn to get it healthy for next pring and, serendipitously, I came across this little nugget. So germane! Anyway, many of us have fescue lawns, but I will bet that not many of us realize how important overseeding is, and the proper time to do it. It was a surprise to me that most experts recommend overseeding every 3-4 years. The plants actually get old and don’t look as green and grow as as lush as young plants. Who knew? Here is some expert advice on the subject. Enjoy!
Autumn offers another chance at a flourishing lawn, if you play your seeds and fertilizer just right

Cool season grasses make up the majority of turf lawns in the Albuquerque metro area and locales north. September, October and November are good months for fertilizing and reseeding these lawns.

Cool season lawns, typically Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue or perennial ryegrass, green up sooner in the spring and stay green longer into the fall,” explains Cheryl Kent, a horticulturist with the Bernalillo County Cooperative Extension Service. Their biggest drawback is clearly visible at the height of the summer heat, when they are inclined to go dormant and take on a yellow-to-brown hue before greening up again as the weather cools in the fall.

Cool season lawns should be fertilized twice in that second active growing phase — in early fall and six to eight weeks later. Lawns also should be reseeded as needed and as early in the fall as possible so seeds have time to germinate and grass blades can grow 2-3 inches tall before winter sets in.

By late fall, Kent says, the root system of a lawn should have stored enough energy to get it through the winter and provide a boost for greening up early in the spring. Cool season lawns should be fertilized and reseeded again in the spring.

Warm season grasses typically grown in the southern part of New Mexico, green up later in the spring and go dormant earlier in the fall. Their strength is that they are better able to thrive in the hottest part of the summer. Bermuda, buffalo and grama grasses are common warm season grasses.

Create green grasses in fall

Fertilizing lawns in the fall should be done with a product that has a higher nitrogen content.  Be careful not to apply more than one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn, Kent says.  Bags of fertilizer have a series of three analysis numbers that represent nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, in that order, says Wes Brittenham, manager of Plants of the Southwest.  Nitrogen should be the largest of the three numbers. Nitrogen is what encourages grass to grow hardy, thick and green, he says.  A healthy, thick lawn is better able to resist weeds, bugs and survive drought.

Phosphorus encourages strong, healthy and deep roots, which translates to stronger and thicker grass blades above the soil.  Potassium supplements the nitrogen to help further toughen the roots and foliage.  Brittenham also recommends an iron supplement to bolster and maintain green lawns.  He notes that iron deficiencies are common in New Mexico’s sandy soils because the iron leaches out of the soil faster.

Also, in the early fall, reduce lawn waterings to twice a week, Brittenham says, and after the lawn is dormant in late fall, step down to twice monthly waterings.

This article was written for Albuquerque and Northern New Mexico, so adjust accordingly to our climate and seasons. I aerated my lawn last weekend and will overseed with a Tall Fescue blend I found online. I plan to continue to water daily until it gets much cooler, albeit the duration my sprinklers are shorter each day.

All Real Estate.  All The Time.