Saturday, March 24, 2018

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - The Winnipeg Drought

The Winnipeg Drought
It was quite a number of years ago that Winnipeg experienced a time of drought and a basic lowering of the water table. I remember it well because there were several calls regarding it. I don’t really know now whether it was confined to the south end of the city or was generally all around. But it happened about a year after I had sold that place in Wildwood Park. The whole business stands out in my mind in that there was an apparent first time problem with that place.
These homes were built by C. T. Lount in a radical manner in that they were slab on grade with a network of copper piping in the slab to heat the floor. What that did was to eliminate the furnace while keeping the whole house warm in winter. It was especially comfortable on the feet in January. This was a radical departure from the usual method of construction and was quite a remarkable marketing coup for Lount at the time.
The problem that came up was that the floor was experiencing some serious cracks to the extent that the copper pipe in it was also cracking and causing a serious amount of distress. While I somehow heard about this problem, I had no ambition to get involved in it. I had my hands full with other things and didn’t need that added to them.
At about the same time I had another call about a house in Riverview where the earth had shrunk away from the foundation and there was (now) water coming into the basement. (Of course it wouldn’t rain unless preconditions existed to do the most damage). Well, now it rained.
Doing some research on the property, I found that it had been built by Hiro Hashimoto. Hiro was one of those builders who, if he built something, it stayed built. Well this was a situation that even he could not get under his command. If you build something on a virtual swamp and then somebody drains it, well there was nothing to be done about it. So I blew that one away too.
I must say that this had nothing in particular to do with my real estate business, except that it was one of the peripheral consequences one had to deal with. And it was one of the things that had happened to one of the houses I had listed and sold. I tell it here merely to point out that there is more to real estate than real estate alone.
I suppose I could do a whole section on what happens to houses in this eternal bog called Winnipeg like the periodical disappearance of the third sub-basement of the Hudson’s Bay Store and so on, but suffice it to say that like the people of the Florida Coast, we don’t know any better either. It’s strange how the people along the Mekong Delta know how to protect their entire villages from flood and we, here in the developed world can’t figure that out.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - The Ultimate Country Property

The Ultimate Country Property
Often I don’t remember how I get into certain listings or find buyers but some of the details usually come out in the writing and I at least come out with a conclusion of some sort or a lesson learned.
I think in this case I was contacted by a fellow on my Great West house that never sold. It’s a typical example that we advertise properties to sell “A” house (and not particularly that house).  Suffice it to say he wanted a large custom home where he could relax from his rather hectic business. He liked all the amenities but the house was far too old and outdated for him. He wanted all those things but something modern. Something he could be proud of.
Well, I knew of a place that pretty well fit his list of requirements in exactly the area he wanted to settle. There was only one catch. It was about a hundred and fifty thousand more than he wanted to pay. Forty odd years ago that was a pretty healthy sum of money. He didn’t care. He wanted to see it. Well okay then. I first arranged to go through the place myself so I wouldn’t look like an idiot when I showed it to him and his wife. The listing agent was the wife of a prominent lawyer I had befriended a few years before. She was very gracious in taking me on a tour of the now vacant home.
It was a couple of days later that my buyer came thundering up in his brand new white Cadillac. He was by himself, not having brought his wife or the children. Well THAT was a little disconcerting but the real estate business is always full of surprises.
Before we went into the house we entered the swimming pool building, a massive structure with everything in it, including a bar, change rooms and showers – everything needed for a rich man’s pool house and then some. The building was close to the residence, but before we went in, he wanted to see the property itself, which we did.
A little further back in a clearing stood a barn and hay roof. I was to learn later that it was visible from the kitchen and family room in the house. It was a twelve stall barn where the stalls were reversed and the horses would face outwards to a hallway that ran the length of the barn. Of course there were no animals there now. It was quite a set up.
The place belonged to a major grain buyer whose son-in-law had designed it for him. He had placed all the toys and would be toys in the property for the old man’s whim and fancy. Now as he moved up to the west coast, he had entrusted the property to my lawyer friend to dispose of. That was pretty well the long and the short of it.
But I digress. We went into the house through the mud room which was opposite the pool house. That in itself was quite a production. It was a large space with room to remove your boots and replace them with slippers, a couple of saddles and tack, and whatever else you wanted to drag in or out with you. The mud room opened into a spacious kitchen and – well like every other room in the place was well appointed and fitted with every luxury. Even the curtains and drapes were tastefully hung in the place.
It was several hours before we got through, going back outside again to re-examine the grounds. I went home in a totally confused state. I had no idea of what might happen to this deal. In fact I didn’t hold out much hope of it ever materializing. Yet the confidence of my buyer left something to be considered. I just swept it under the carpet and had my dinner.
Two days following that visit to the property I suddenly got a call from my lawyer friend. He’d been talking to my (potential) buyer’s lawyer and it looked like a potential deal was in the offing so I should call him. I was about to when the buyer phoned me. I was to come to his place in the Wildwood Park area, an upscale residential district in the city. I was to write up an offer on the place in the country and at the same time give him my opinion of the value of his own home.
It was one of those C. T. Lount slab homes with heated copper piping in the floor to keep it warm in winter. It was indeed a spacious and well appointed home. Taking the area into account and the quality of the property itself along with the urgency to sell, brought us to a reasonable asking price. I barely had time to organize a public open house. In fact, once I had the open house organized, the house was sold in the first half hour, lock stock and barrel. There’s another side story to tell about that, but it’s for another time.
The best way I can describe how this deal all came together is to compare it to putting it into a legal set of dough makers. The first one would knead it together, remove it and throw it into the next one that added something or other and continued kneading. I have only a vague recollection of machinations between lawyers with the occasional notice of how things were going and somehow, the first thing I knew, the deal had come together and my buyer was in possession of the new place.
That. it turns out, was only the beginning of the story. It wasn’t long before they had their own stamp on the place. He was busy thundering around the country side in his big white Cadillac or thundering around the property on horseback, having an absolute ball while his wife was enjoying the house and the pool, totally avoiding the barn with all those big beasts in it. Well really, the daughters enjoyed the pool more because it brought friends and boyfriends and happy times. Now they had it all.
About six months went by when I got a phone call from my buyer. He said he wanted to sell the place.
“WHAT?” I blurted out in disbelief. “You only just got there. What’s wrong?”
“It’s a long story,” he replied. And he proceeded to tell me. To start with, his wife had suffered an aneurism, not fatal but quite debilitating. She would be a long time recovering. I was shocked and expressed my condolences. She was such a lovely lady. But that still wasn’t any reason I could see to move. Well she liked the place but it was too big for her to keep and not only that, she was deathly afraid of those big scary horses. Still not a reason to sell, I figured. Well not only that, but his brother who had been his partner forever was pilfering clients out from under him. He needed a smaller place and he needed a shop in the city to set up his business on his own without a partner. Not only that, but he wanted it all to be closer together so it was more manageable. Okay, now it made sense.
In order to be an honest broker, I suggested we hand the place back to my lawyer friend’s wife because I had no idea of how to find another buyer for such a place. He agreed, so I got busy trying to find him a location closer to town and also a business premises. It pretty well all went sideways because he was busy finding his own properties. I couldn’t quite read his mind so I rather backed off and eventually lost track.
I don’t really know what I learned from this whole experience other than to try not to get involved with these high energy doers again. It’s far too easy to get out of your league.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - Buyers Remorse

Buyer’s Remorse
There’s a psychological phenomenon well known in the Real Estate business (as it is with every major purchase in life) called buyer’s remorse. That’s where a buyer purchases a home, all excited and after the ink dries on the offer, he is seen holding his head in his hands and lamenting on what he has done with his life. It’s certainly all ruined for at least three days after the said purchase. Then reality slowly begins to set in that maybe the purchase wasn’t as bad as it first seemed. Gradually over the next three weeks the deal keeps improving in the buyer’s mind until it becomes the best thing he/she ever did. That’s just part of how the mind works (even mine from time to time).
Given that introductory premise, I remember a particular incident of buyer’s remorse, both by the buyers of one of my properties in Tyndall Park, as well as of the selling agent. It happened that he was relatively new in the real estate business. Basically he was an insurance broker who was introduced to me by one of my sons. The real estate business was added to his portfolio as a way to expand his business. It was a perfect fit.
The agent was a gregarious person with the gift of the gab and I could see how he could talk anybody into just about anything. He was indeed personable and it was easy to be engaged by him. Well, that was the problem. He had found a house that I’d listed in Tyndall Park and according to him it was perfect for his clients. He eagerly made an appointment and took them to see it. It wasn’t long before he’d written up an offer, sent them on their way and phoned me about it. It was really a pretty good offer and I managed to have it accepted on the phone. But I had a funny feeling about the whole business and dragged my feet a little in tying up all the loose ends.
Sure enough at seven o’clock the next morning, I got a frantic call from an apologetic agent. It seemed his client had called him about an hour ago wanting to cancel the deal. Normally, when that happens, the purchaser is apt to lose his deposit as a penalty for not proceeding without just cause. But in this case, I had an inkling of what was coming so I delivered the deposit cheque and the offer (still in my possession) back to the agent within twenty minutes of his phone call and told him not to worry about it. Mind you, I had to do a little stick handling with my vendor to smooth it over, but I managed somehow by promising an open house on Sunday next.
I told the other agent not to worry about it because I’d hold an open house on the week end and have my vendor well satisfied. It was a tight race to organize the open house in time for the week end but I managed. It was a reasonable open house, although there were no immediate buyers. But low and behold, my Insurance Broker friend showed up again the next morning with a new offer now removing all conditions and a new cheque for the same property. He was grinning like a Cheshire cat, as though he had convinced his buyers to do the right thing.
As I said at the outset, buyer’s remorse takes about three days to reverse itself and let reality into the brain, which is exactly what happened here. I had allowed for that in returning the original offer and waiting for the other shoe to drop. This time I didn’t hesitate and did my work to slam the thing shut.
Sure enough, about three weeks later the buyers were crowing about the marvelous bargain they had stumbled upon in this house. And there you have it; buyer’s remorse in full bloom. Lesson learned.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - Well - Advertising

Well – Advertising
I spent a lot of time (and money) advertising the properties I had listed, often to no avail. The Missus who spent her life in the retail business used to compliment me on my advertising abilities. Well, that was a feel good compliment that never sold many properties. Try as I might, I couldn’t seem to attract the buyers. But then I glommed on to a little piece of information the Real Estate Board made available to its agents. It was a list of advertisements of properties that had sold (in the U.S.). I thought they were crumby, insignificant ads that didn’t amount to anything in particular, but I took their word for it that they had worked.
Well, what’d I have to lose? I’d try one, just for the heck of it. So I did. Low and behold, I sold a property. Now I was really confused. How would a Mickey Mouse ad like that attract the right kind of buyer to close a deal? It was baffling how it worked. Reluctant to give up my masterful ad writing until I had a chance to prove otherwise, I tried it again. The traffic at my houses increased significantly. What in blazes - ?
Well it was time to have a serious discussion with my over inflated ego. This was a much easier way to do business, even though I didn’t understand it. Try as I might, I couldn’t fathom the phenomenon. It wasn’t until about a year ago that I started seeing things like “Keywords” show up in online marketing schemes. That doesn’t mean I understand them, because bless me, I don’t. One of these days when it’s too late to make use of it, I’m sure I’ll figure it out.
Mind you, now thinking back on it, once in a while I got lucky, even though I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time. I remember a couple I met during one of my many incarnations of the Cherewick property. It was at an open house they wandered in to. We hit it off straight away and they told me what they had in mind. The Cherewick house was too small and too dated for their liking. They wanted to be within walking distance of the university since he taught something there. But they wanted something a little more modern.
The upshot was that I did find something that was even closer to the university. It was a newer home and more expensive. In a few days, when I’d set up an appointment, we went to have a look. It was pretty well perfect (except for the price of course). I don’t remember how much over budget it was, but they both had to swallow pretty hard.
At that point I made my pitch to them which even now seems to have been reasonable. Hadn’t they spent their lives working to assemble what material things they had, raising three children and contributing to the community at large? Wasn’t it about time they considered rewarding themselves for all their hard work and sacrifice with a comfortable lifestyle that they could enjoy while they still had their health? It was sort of a backhanded way of complimenting them on their own achievements and a moment to reflect on that.
Well, they decided I was right and they would bite the bullet for the higher cost of the home. They did deserve it after all and so arrangements were made and they took possession of the home. I made a point of being in touch with them about three weeks after possession (after the expiry of the “buyer’s remorse time) and found they had made the buy of a lifetime.
My job was done.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - North End Adventure

The North End Adventure

My office at the time, being in the north end of the city, prompted some business from that area. Indeed, I wasn’t nearly as prolific with my sales as some other people, but nonetheless, I managed to pick up the odd bit of business, usually because it was my turn to get the call. That’s what happened when I went to the house on the corner of Inkster and McGregor.
The house was a stately two storey building, custom built by the owner in about 1940 or so, when Inkster Boulevard was a relatively posh area of West Kildonan. The owner, whose name I don’t recall had a sheet metal shop in the downtown area and while he was more or less retired, still went in to the office daily to keep himself busy. He and his wife had slowed down considerably and the big home was far too much for them. I remember them to have been very dignified, sociable people, although I don’t recall much else. In any case, it’s not them I wanted to write about, but rather my buyer who called on my advertisement.
Mrs. Cherewick called me up to enquire about the place. She sounded like a gruff old teacher with her pointed questions. She was indeed a teacher at St. John’s College on the U. of M. campus as I found out later. She was quite guarded about her reasons to relocate from the university area where she and her husband had their home. Finally she admitted she was putting her husband into St. Josephs Nursing Home because he was suffering from Altzheimers syndrome and needed more care than she was able to give him.
I have to concede that I was a real estate agent, not a social or medical worker, and I had no idea at the time what she was talking about. Suffice it to say that she was depositing her husband somewhere that she would be closer to visit. In the mean time, she wanted a home that was a little bit classy, having an illusion about the character of the Inkster Boulevard district. Ten years earlier she might have been right, but now, not so much.
I asked if I should come pick her up (having a curiosity about her own home and circumstance) but she said no, she would meet me at the Inkster house. She came by herself and we started through the place. It was very nice, she said, but too big and too much work for what she had in mind.
The long and the short of it was that she wanted to be in the general area, in a (sort of) classy neighborhood and nearer to her husband. She could certainly commute to the University. I suggested I might come over and look at her place to get an idea of her lifestyle. It would help me to determine what might suit her. She agreed reluctantly and I went over.
HOLY CRACKERS! What a property! I don’t remember the exact dimensions of the river lot but it was at least an acre running right back to the Red River. The back of the property behind the house was covered in plants, shrubs and trees, none of which should survive the Manitoba winter, but yet thrived here. The back of the lot was two tiered with the house sitting up fairly high, which I imagine was because the street was a dyke built after the 1950 flood. 
The house itself was a modest one and a half storey home, well designed and well kept, which was somewhat of a relief to me. So Mrs. Cherewick was not an uppity sort of woman and would be reasonable to deal with. I even got to meet Dr. Cherewick, a horticulturist with enough degrees after his name to make up a whole alphabet. He happened to be quite lucid at the time and was describing some of his plants to me. I could see the tension melting from his wife’s face as we were chatting. She must be under a terrific amount of pressure and I felt a certain empathy toward her.
After looking through her home which she had listed with a couple of high rollers from another company, I left to do my due diligence and begin looking for a place for her. By a stroke of extreme luck I found a place in West Kildonan on the street right beside Kildonan Park. It was a single story two bedroom home of an age a little newer than her old place in Fort Garry and called her up immediately. The place was a little further out than she had expressed, but it was right across the street from a major park with flowers and trees and all sorts of nature and only about two minutes from the house on Inkster Avenue. This was an upscale neighborhood and in my mind it was ideal. Mrs. Cherewick agreed after seeing the place, but she wanted to bring her son to look at it too so I arranged another appointment for a Sunday afternoon.
You can imagine my surprise when what seemed to be the whole family showed up for the viewing. I don’t recall now whether the house was vacant or the owners were just out for the duration. Suffice it to say I had my hands full shepherding that whole bunch through the house and getting them back outside. I left them on the front lawn in animated discussion about the merits of the house and the area on the promise from Mrs. Cherewick to be in touch with me.
Well the whole business took a strange twist in the coming days. I had been working with a local structural engineer whose bi-level house I had for sale and took an offer on. He’d make a perfect candidate for Mrs. Cherewick’s house I thought and showed it to him. I was right. He was pretty well dazzled by the lot and the planting on it. It was right up his alley to grow grapes as he had done at the bi-level. Even the house suited them. Any changes were no big deal for a structural engineer, he said. But there was one thing that bothered him, that was the lot size.
Armed with a survey certificate, my engineer client set out to determine whether he’d got more land than he had bargained for – or less. It was less. The property you see wasn’t perpendicular to the street and that’s where the discrepancy lay. Well, when you’re attached to the largest engineering firm in the province, it’s not too hard to make a case out of land discrepancy. You see, the agents had taken the dimension on the street as the property width instead of taking the perpendicular measurement.
I was getting gladder and gladder that it wasn’t my listing. As for the two high rolling listing agents, I heard they left the business shortly after that, never to be heard from again. And the engineer, well he got a bit of a deal (I don’t know how much) and he was happy.
And Mrs. Cherewick, well she got moved over to West Kildonan, entertained her family and visited her husband regularly. She was happy. So that was that.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - The Sign Painter

The Sign Painter
There’s one more nasty story I’ve got to tell before moving on to more decent folks.  I had been working in the north of the perimeter along the west side of the river on some commercial property which I’d leased to a local grocer when I came across some vacant land owned by a local architect. Of course I had my signs up and we were working toward building an upscale residential community along the river.
That’s when I got a phone call from a very well known sign painter. He was the go to guy around town for the window paintings he specialized in. It turned out that he had bought a large old house on Scotia Avenue not far from the property I had listed. I guess he saw my sign there and decided to call.
I arrived at a rather large, rambling old bungalow, not much to look at on the outside, but it had a neat enough yard leading all the way back to the river. At first glance, the place certainly had potential. Once inside, I was pleasantly surprised by the brightness of the place. Well of course, the sign painter could paint more than just signs. He had knocked out a few walls and combined the living room/dining room into a large sitting area, somewhat like a lounge with ample seating, coffee and card tables etc. The whole thing had the appearance of a social club.
Then we went downstairs. Well what a surprise THAT was. Leather couches and chairs all facing the giant television on the end wall. The other wall had an old wood fed stove with a warming oven like we used to have on the farm – but it wasn’t hooked up to a chimney or anything.
“I rent this place out to groups of people wanting to have a quiet, relaxing weekend and just party a little. It’s ideal!” the sign man said enthusiastically. He walked over to the oven and opened the warming oven above. It was crammed full of VCR’s
“There,” he said. “Entertainment galore: I picked the whole bunch up from a German fellow. These are good stories.” He stuck one into the VCR player and turned it on.
Well, I’m no prude, so I watched, looking for some sort of story line. There was none. Finally I could make my exit. But before I could do that, he felt obligated to explain the whole business to me.
He’d had this marvelous idea to rent this place out to groups of people to do what they wanted to do. He wouldn’t be involved in anything but collect the rent. And to furnish the place from time to time as needed.
His wife on the other hand expressed the sentiment that this was absolutely the stupidest idea he’d ever had, and if he didn’t get rid of the place soon, he wouldn’t have his home either.
I finally got to get a word in edgewise and told him while it was an interesting idea, it was way out of my league and I couldn’t help him.
I went back to the office to breathe a little clean air.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - A Bizarre Adventure

A Bizarre Adventure
One day I got a call from a fellow looking for a country property in my area of business. He was looking for a house on acreage. He had some pretty specific requirements. Firstly, it should be a spacious house and garage. Secondly, it should be as far as possible from a school so his children would be picked up first and delivered home last in the day. Well that was an odd request and I laughed, being sure he was joking. He wasn’t.
It turns out he and his wife were running the general store just east of the Teulon turn off on Highway 8, just north of Clandeboye, which they had turned into a Gulf Oil bulk dealership. It was the old Carter’s General Store where my folks had shopped at back in the day when it had been a country store. So that established an immediate kinship and I put a considerable effort into finding something. And find it I did. By blind luck I discovered a large, rambling vacant property almost made to order. The place had been vacant for some six months or so and the owner was anxious to sell, so we went in and had a look. The place more or less met their needs and he said to me, “Let us think about it.”
Well he obviously didn’t have to think too long because the very next morning he called me at about nine o’clock, saying he wanted to make an offer. But there were conditions he didn’t think I could meet.
“Well, try me,” I said confidently. The main condition was that he needed possession that very day by 6:00 p.m. – actual physical possession. He would pack up everything from the store and move it into the house at six o’clock. They didn’t have that much stuff anyway and his wife was very efficient, he said. I don’t quite remember all the flurry of putting this altogether or even the selling agent’s name, but somehow it all went together and by six p.m. the buyers were in the house. Fortunately we got to dump all the legal issues on the lawyers and go on with our business.
That was more or less the end of the affair except for a couple of footnotes. I guess when Gulf Oil went to check the tanks on possession of the sale; they found a considerable discrepancy between what was there and what was recorded. I didn’t know much about it because I hadn’t been involved in that end of the property sale. Quite frankly, the less I knew about it, the better I liked it. I didn’t bother to visit my buyers or even call them on the phone. There’s a time when you have to cut bait and move on. This was it. I desperately wanted to find some NICE people to do business with. Not that I didn’t make a good living from the Sicilian mafia or the drug induced crazies or the mortgage defaulters, but it was getting a bit much for me. It seemed that was all I was running in to. It was time to take stock of the direction of my real estate career and reset my GPS system toward that kind of clientele. Surely there must be some decent home buyers and sellers around. I would focus on them.