Saturday, September 30, 2017

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - The Ancient Mariner

The Ancient Mariner

You often wonder what people who sail the seven seas for years at a time think about in their quiet moments. They certainly wouldn’t be the same dreams that land lubbers have. Well, it wouldn’t really come up in your mind unless you were confronted with a situation involving it. I was, and it did.
Art Wolinski had been in the Merchant Marine for a lot of years until his retirement. I couldn’t even imagine all the places he’d been to or the things he had seen. But when met Art, he was living out his dreams. His dreams of course didn’t match those of his wife who had settled in to a life largely without her husband, of quiet living within the company of her circle of friends. How they ended up in Canada I’ll never know, but they did. I suppose it was the wide open spaces that had attracted him.
When I met Art he was already into his third year of implementing his plan. He had acquired an idyllic ten acre piece of property not far from Birds Hill Park. At age sixty-seven he had started to build his log house – himself. I say himself because his wife didn’t share his dream. He obviously hadn’t communicated it to her properly, or she just thought he was an idiot to start such a project at his age. Nevertheless he persevered. I think he never even noticed that she had left him.
I met Art one day in the fall, I think it was in early September or so. He had heard that I sold properties in the area and that I had some experience in log homes, so he wanted to meet me. Well, YES SIR! I didn’t put on any airs either in expressing my amazement in his building prowess. He had pretty well thought of everything from the foundation up.
The thing was that he didn’t want to advertise the property for sale now but rather in the spring when he returned from Mexico. He was willing to commit to a listing now though and I would have the winter to formulate my sales strategy. Well I set myself up as the agent of record and proceeded accordingly. The more I went by that place, the better I liked it.
Of course the old mariner was way ahead of me in his planning. For starters, once he had parted from his wife (or rather she had parted from him) he wasted no time in finding a little sweet heart in Mexico. In fact, he even had a little place down there. From the first of October to the end of April they would hang out there. Then, come spring, they would occupy his house in Birds Hill, living off the preserves he had stored in the cool area of the rather substantial crawl space/wine cellar.
Of course it didn’t occur to me until much later that Art had an overall plan in mind. For years he had dreamt of building his own place. The plan was well fixed in his mind before he even started. Now he’d done it and he could cross it off his list. What he wanted now was a little place in the town of Selkirk, within walking distance of the Legion. He was very specific about that (like everything else he wanted). He and his companion could spend the summers there and move quite conveniently between there and Mexico and generally enjoy life in what I suppose you could call retirement.
About the end of March I started putting out feelers to other agents about the property I had coming up for sale soon and true to the profession, I had a fight on my hands to keep the listing. Well it really wasn’t much of a fight since Art and I had an understanding. What I did have trouble with was keeping people off the property until such time as Art was back. It actually worked out well (for once) in my naïve planning. By the time I was able to show the property people were just drooling to get on it. It didn’t take long to get the job done except for the place in Selkirk I had to find. Well that didn’t take too long either. There was a place three doors down from the legion that fit the bill.

The details of everything that went on in this deal kind of escape me at this point but I think I got the general idea across. After it was all done, the whole thing kind of faded away – at least in my memory.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Liar Liar - Pants on Fire - Open House in the Country

Open House in the Country
The natty little guy with an armload of degrees had a listing in the country. Now you have to imagine a gentleman’s gentleman (often with a carnation in his lapel) and wonder what in thunder he would be doing with a property for sale in the country. I’m sure he wondered the same thing, but he was a convincing talker and had an excellent reputation. He had booked an open house at this particular place and told me he had a conflicting schedule that Sunday. Would I be good enough to sit in for him?
Would I? You’d better believe I would! There’s an old axiom that says you’re not there to sell THAT house, you’re just there to sell A house – in other words pick up buyers who want to buy something (or sell something). Of course you don’t advertise to your sellers.
I don’t exactly remember what I gleaned from that adventure, but I know it launched my country career in real estate. Suddenly I had three or four buyers looking for country properties. I really felt at home with this country business and things indeed were looking up for me. Not that they were easy by any means, but at least I had my foot in the door in an area I was familiar with.
Well, where do I start with my country adventures? I guess I’ll have to pick them as they come to mind. There was a guy named Penner (I think) who had a ten acre parcel of land on which stood his mobile home and a very large garage that he had fixed up as a second home for his in-laws when they came visiting. He obviously kept his vehicles outside. I don’t quite remember how I latched on to this listing, but it had a fairly long life.
A local horse breeder had just got rid of her husband and was looking for a place to set up with whatever settlement she’d got from the divorce. Well, the place wasn’t expensive for her and it was the right area to do her thing. Well, she bought it and set to work, converting the garage to a residence. She sold the trailer and built a barn for her horses. By this time it was probably August or so and she asked me to come out and look at the place. I did and admired the horses while I was at it.
She had a particular small Arabian two year old gelding I was looking at.
“You want him?” she asked. “He’s green broke and an adventurous horse. I’ll give him to you for $75.00.”
“That’s awfully cheap,” I said.
“He’s also a little bit stupid too,” she laughed. “About a year ago he ran headlong into a telephone pole and put his neck out. He seems to have outgrown it, but you never know. It could come back again. But he’ll make a nice pet.
So now I had another animal at my place to add to the two horses I already had. Well, I won’t go into that, but a while later I get a call from the mortgage company. Apparently this is now going to be a foreclosure. We inspected the property and found it to be in good condition. Okay, no problem. Enter Big Bertha.
Bertha had her house for sale in St. Anne and she was beginning to look around for another place in the country. She was drawn to my sign and the privacy of the property as well as the fact that it had no basement. I understood when I met them at the property.
Bertha WAS as big as her husband Bert was small. He was on disability and not very well while she was full of beans. Having a look around, they loved the place and made an offer, subject to the sale of their house. All fine and good and eventually Mr. and Mrs. Bertha took possession of the property. I get a phone call on moving day saying the water doesn’t work. What the . . . it was working on inspection. Now what? So I called the mortgage company to report the deficiency and they called the pump man. It turns out that the owner didn’t pay the pump man so he sneaked in after she had vacated the premises and pulled out his pump. The long and the short of it was that the mortgage company had somebody else install a new pump.
But Bertha didn’t like the siding on the house. She wanted it to have a stone facing. It should be natural stone from the area she said. I didn’t know how she would accomplish that, but okay – it was none of my business anyway so I left it at that.
First she made some changes to the inside the house. I assumed it was Bert doing the work, but no, he was just too sick to do much of anything. I have to say to Bertha’s credit that she did look after Bert and the fresh air and the trees around the property seemed to breathe new life into him. But no, she brought her good for nothing son home to help with the things she couldn’t manage herself. That didn’t work out too well either, but no matter, she carried on anyway.
It was some time later when Bertha called me. She wanted me to come down and have a look at her handiwork. So I drove out to her place and passed it twice before recognizing the exact location. What in blazes! She’d put up a picket fence across the whole front of the property – some five hundred feet of it. And it was all painted white and straight and plumb as could be. No wonder I didn’t recognize the place.
Well, her son had put in the posts for the fence and Bertha, annoyed with his inability to pound them in straight had taken over from there and finished the job herself. Now she could concentrate on the stone walls.
“Where’d you get the stone? I wanted to know.
“Oh, I got in the truck and went up and down the side roads, picking them up.”
I couldn’t get over her creative imagination and her ability to do whatever she set out to do.
Winter had now set in so she concentrated on her interior alterations and looking after Bert (who wasn’t faring too well). Sadly, he passed away, not unexpectedly, and Bertha carried on. Bert’s insurance gave her a new impetus to live life as it was meant to be. She figured she was getting a little overweight so she bought one of those fitness machines that she could use while watching TV.
She also bought herself a new snow blower that she didn’t know how to use, Rather than call her useless son who was now living somewhere else; she figured I would know how to operate it, so she called me. That was more of an exercise in patience than anything, but I got it done. Well I had a couple of tricks with two cycle engines that I showed her and she never needed me after that.
The following summer after Bertha had finished her stonework on the outside walls of her house, she called me to come have a look. I was amazed. It looked absolutely marvelous.
“Well, now I want to sell,” she remarked. “It’s getting a little lonely out here without my Bert. Besides, there’s not much left to do here. Can we get together?”
It turns out she wanted a two bedroom house without a basement. She was emphatic about that. Well, given her size, I could understand. So I started hunting through all the available listings and found a few. Bertha came in to my office and together we took off to view a few listings I’d made appointments for. I marveled at how my little car listed to port when she got in. Well it wasn’t so bad that it would tip, but just the same . . .
By the time we got back to my office we’d more or less had a full day and I’m sure all the places were whirling around in Bertha’s head. She needed some time to digest it all. Talk about digesting, Bertha was hungry too. She’d just pick up a couple of burgers from George’s next door to munch on during her drive home. Knowing the size of George’s burgers, she’d have to drive slowly to get it all down before she reached home.
At this point things get a little blurry in my mind. As I (think) recall Bertha listed her house (with me) subject to her finding a new place and a buyer was found for hers by another agent subject to the sale of their house and on and on. In the end I think there were some five transactions dependent on each other for it all to fall into place. There was a whole lot of hand wringing, dozens of phone calls and frantic real estate agents down my throat, but miracle of miracles, at the eleventh hour it all came together. You could almost hear a collective sigh of relief.
I didn’t hear from Bertha for a while and went about my business which was developing nicely.  One day I heard from her. Would I like to come over and see what she’d done to the place. Sure enough, she was up to her old tricks. Fencing had been done, most of the interior had been repainted to her taste, shelving put up in the furnace room, and now she was putting up a backsplash over the kitchen counter out of her favorite little stones, one at a time.
Well that wasn’t the last time I heard of Big Bertha. She had a reclusive sister named Evelyn living in another part of the city. Evelyn was known in the neighborhood as the “cat lady”. In fact, when the SPCA went in to her house they found some sixty-three cats in the tiny little home. They were all well looked after at the expense of the house. The cats were removed by the SPCA, leaving the house empty except for Evelyn. Extensive negotiations between Evelyn and Bertha in the parking lot of a large box store resulted in Evelyn moving into a seniors home and the house being sold for the value of the lot.
It was a bittersweet story between the two sisters. They hadn’t spoken for years. Big Bertha as you have seen was a bundle of energy and common sense while Evelyn was a shy, kind recluse who was fearful of people. The two managed to rekindle a bond (at least temporarily) until Evelyn was resettled. I managed to sell the property quickly and lost my memory of the incident fairly quickly.

As I drew close to retirement, I let Bertha know I would no longer be looking after her and introduced her to one of my other agents. I felt bad as did Bertha, but all things must come to an end. I must say that all my adventures with her were unlike anything else I ever experienced.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Liar, Liar Pants on Fire -Getting my Bearings

Getting My Bearings
Over the next number of days I was introduced to all the other realtors in the office. There must have been at least twenty – five of them. They came in all sorts of shapes and sizes and all from different backgrounds. There was an old truck driver, another, a structural engineer, an economist, an agriculturalist odds and sundry housewives looking for adventure and even a teacher or two.
It took a little while to get used to this collection of adventurers, certainly a different bunch of people than any I’d ever worked with. Largely, they were friendly enough, even helpful at times, but I’ll get back to them. There are certainly enough stories about them to fill a book.
It turns out the boss was right. The phone WAS my friend (from time to time). I got the hang of it pretty quickly. Not wanting to appear too obvious, instead of saying “Do you want to sell your house (or buy one) I opted to firstly announce that I was in the business and depending on the reception that prompted I would say something like did (whoever was on the other end of the line) know of anyone wanting to sell or buy. God help me if someone said yes.
Within two days someone did say yes and I was in for experiences I never would have imagined.  The owner of the house had a rental property right next door to his home and he was sick and tired of nonpayment of rent. He was an accountant so we never had a problem of establishing the value of the home. The place had been vacant now for about a week or so and the only problem he did have was to clean the place up so it could be shown.
Well actually, there was more than just one problem. Already the middle of December, it was a little chilly out and I could hardly wait for my sign to go up with my name on it. In the meantime, there was a little black mongrel dog lying beside the door on a raggedy old blanket, shivering coldly. He looked like he was on death’s doorstep. It was obvious that his owner had left him there for some sucker like me to pick him up – so I did, blanket and all, and put them in the back of my car. We hadn’t had a dog in a while so I had to stop and pick up some dog food, dishes, a leash and supplies. Finally getting home to our ten acres in the country, I let the dog out of the car, taking the supplies into the house. While I’m busy doing this, the dog takes off across the field and I figure that’s the end of him. I put his raggedy blanket out on the deck in case he comes back and continue bringing things into the house. Next trip outside and I see the dog come roaring back to the house and he stops dead in front of me. In his mouth is a yellow tennis ball.
I guess the heat of the car had revived the poor little critter enough that now he wanted to play. Where in all that ten acres he’d found my daughter’s tennis ball I’ll never know. She’d lost it about five years earlier and he honed in on it. We played ball until it was time to go pick the Missus up from her job. Both of us were exhausted.
Ah but I digress again. Proud as a peacock, I visited my “For Sale” sign every day, just to see my name on it.  I must have thought myself to be a rock star. It wasn’t too long before my seller had found a “buyer” himself. The only problem was, he had no down payment.
Not to put too fine a point on it, I had befriended a mortgage broker and a lawyer and with the help of my broker, I put together a deal where I contributed a dollar to make the deal binding and the seller would take back the whole mortgage for a year at which time the buyer would find his own mortgage. Well, fair enough, the buyer jumped through all the hoops, bought his own insurance, paid the legal and land transfer fees and I managed to put a sold appendage on my precious sign.
Two days later the seller phones me up and says: “Come look at your sign.”
“Uh oh, what’s wrong?” I wanted to know.
“Just come and look,” laughs the seller.
I go streaking out there like a bolt of lightning because I know something’s wrong with my precious sign. No, there’s nothing wrong with the sign, but the house behind it no longer exists. Well, a small pile of rubble and ash does but little else. The Insurance Company apparently vindicates the buyer and the seller and forks over the settlement out of which the seller gets his mortgage paid, the buyer ends up with a twenty-five thousand dollar vacant lot and I end up with a remarkable dog.

That’s as far as I want to go in analyzing this transaction.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

It’s been forty years since I started in the real estate business and fifteen years since I left it behind for my new career of retired. I’ve got to say that both careers are equally creative and inspiring, and at the same time equally challenging.
Given the title of this series, you might not believe me. In fact, I’m not sure I do either, but one way or another, it ought to be a fun adventure. Of course I’m too old and feeble to remember any of the names of my clients and associates, but that comes in handy in terms of avoiding being sued. So the names will all be fictional and the incidents may well have an element of truth in them, they may be by no means fully accurate, but I maintain my mandate of telling a good story regardless of the facts.
Real estate is an interesting career, exciting even. But it’s complicated to say the least. There is a huge conglomerate of entities with a vested interest in the real estate business, each with its own angle to get a piece of the pie. There’s the Real Estate Board for one who provide a service to the general public and to the agents to keep the game honest and above board. Then there’s the Securities Commission, a government agency designed to protect trust accounts and moral obligations of real estate companies and/or their agents. Beyond that you have your various associations, each of which has its own departments.
Well, as a brand new, naïve potential real estate agent, the first thing you do is to pay money – to the Real Estate Board for the two week course you have to take in order to obtain your license. Day after day the naive agent is lectured about real estate law, board rules, securities commission rules, property values and appraisals: on and on and ad infinitum.
One by one the novice agents were beginning to worry. When were they going to teach us how to get listings? When were they going to teach us about making a sale? When were we going to find out about doing business?
Well, they weren’t going to teach us any of that at all. Old Albert Schmidt, a bricklayer who was tired of laying bricks day after day was totally disgusted. In his words, what kind of stupid training was that? (Well, those weren’t exactly his words – I know there were a few variations of “Verschissen” in there). I think he went back to laying his stupid bricks having satisfied himself that real estate was not for him.
I’ll never forget the appraisal course I took later to get my broker’s license. There was an eye opening revelation made by the lecturer that proved to be far truer than any other mark of the value of a property. After he had given us all the considerations in the value of a property he said that if a seller complains he hasn’t received enough for his property, and the buyer complains he has over paid, and the deal is still consummated, THAT’S your fair market value. Too bad we can’t hit that mark every time.
But I digress. Finally done with my real estate course, I reported to my office and was shown to a cubicle containing my brand new business cards and little else. Well, now what? It wasn’t really as bad as all that. Our broker welcomed me and we had a nice chat. Then he took me downtown in his big Lincoln to introduce his new agent to the boss at head office. We hit it off nicely and I went back to my cubicle which was about the same size as the one I had left in the Engineering office I’d been bored stiff at. It was still as empty as ever, except for my business cards, oh and yeah, a phone.
“What do I do now?” I asked my broker.
“You see that thing on your desk there?”
“Yeah, that’s a phone.”
“Wrong! That’s your gateway to a great future in the real estate business! Get on it and let family and friends, business associates know you’re in the business and see if you can be of service to them. That’s your lifeline!”
Actually, I was more interested in the coffee machine in the back of the office.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Conscientious Objectors

Conscientious Objectors
You think you know a lot about a particular subject only to discover you know didly squat! That happens to me quite a lot, probably because I ain’t payin’ that much attention in the first place. I figured I knew a lot about conscientious objectors from my Mennonite background. See, back when Catherine the Great invited the Mennonites to Russia, one of the concessions she made among others was an exemption from military service. That blanket agreement changed over time to mean alternative service in work camps, mainly forestry work, and work in the Red Cross, in hospitals and prisoner of war camps. The Mennonites went willingly into that voluntarily. Given their strong morals and work ethic (at that time), them buggers could work.
I never considered it other than what it was in Russia until the subject came up the other day. So I researched it on the internet. Holy crackers! It’s been goin’ on a long time. Some guy named Maximillius objected to a particular war in 295 B.C. Of course he was summarily executed and became a saint some time later. Well it was somewhat the same in WWI and WWII, depending where you were from, although in some cases you could claim conscientious objection based on religious beliefs and I imagine there was a bit of paperwork that went with that. Still there was a lot of executions.
The thing is that in Canada these Mennonites (at least) did a lot of heavy duty work like buildin’ roads clearin’ forests an’ so on. This ain’t no light work neither. They looked after prisoners of war, were nurses in hospitals where deranged people were kept an’ some even served with the Red Cross – all for fifty cents a day.
Yet they’re cast as cowards. They’ll not pick up weapons against another person, but they’re good enough to do all the grunt work left behind by the killers who went to war. I really don’t get it. Oh sure, in the 1940’s we had to get rid of the Nazis, no question about that, but every action since has not been a credible war. Besides which, the Nazis are back now in Canada and the U.S. among other places. Where are the soldiers now I’d like to know?
From up here on the top shelf, I can only shake my head an’ be thankful that I ain’t young no more.

Just sayin’.