Saturday, April 14, 2018

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - The Broker

The Broker
Sometimes I think the job of being the broker in a real estate organization is directly proportionate in size and importance to the number of agents in his office when it comes to solving problems. An agent, for example will have a question, any sort of question or problem, he comes to the broker for advice. The broker of course has to know all the answers, based on the rules of the game, and advises accordingly. It’s pretty impressive; almost like a tribal chief.
But that only holds good in a very small brokerage. As the company grows and takes on more agents, a surprising phenomenon arises. Of course you have agents who are new to the business and then you have others who have been around for a while and joined our company for their own reasons.
Normally my advice was not overly encouraging, but it was fact based according to the rules set out by the board and/or the securities commission. I didn’t often get into moral issues since that was another subject entirely and I generally kept my own counsel.
It wasn’t long before I began to notice complaints crossing my desk over things happening against the advice I had given. What the . . . . ? Was I losing my mind or were the agents just not listening? It turns out they were listening alright, but just not to me. What they would do is go around the office describing their particular situation to various other agents, all of whom had different opinions, and then pick the one they liked best, and act on that one. That usually ended them up in the kind of difficulty I had predicted in the first place. Well, it did provide work for a broker to iron out all the wrinkles in a crumpled agent’s life.
As our company grew, so did the number of agents who were disgruntled with the owner of the company. Well, he was getting on a bit and they wanted to take the company in a new direction, so negotiations got under way and seven of them bought him out. Can you imagine seven owners of the sort I just described owning a company? It was sheer pandemonium.
I wasn’t part of the partnership, not that it wasn’t offered, but seeing that I was the broker and I was needed, that was good enough for me. I wasn’t going anywhere anyway so we were all more or less well satisfied. The first thing the new company did was take on the Sutton Group franchise which was probably the best thing that ever happened. No, that’s not true. The best thing they ever did was to hire Roberta as office manager. She came to us in an opportunity resulting from mismanagement of a local Remax office. Well, their loss, our gain.
The partners meetings were loud and boisterous. There wasn’t a wall flower in the bunch. But with all the diverging opinions, it wasn’t long before the partners fell off one by one. It wasn’t so much the different opinions as it was the expense of the company. It wasn’t long before there were only two partners left. Nobody left the company but five of the partners just didn’t have the wherewithal to foot the bill. We were growing into a family of sorts.
One of the partners decided that he should become a broker so that we could open a second office as per his agreement with the franchisor. These were rather uncertain and tough times for the company, what with meeting the daily bills, looking for a new office, recruiting new agents and so on.
I was involved in very little of this except as an outside observer, just doing my job as a broker and taking in all the machinations of the company. I’m going to tell you that once Roberta got her hand on the tiller, it wasn’t long before the company started moving forward. Of course there were discussions, disagreements, insults and threats, but she prevailed and slowly it all came together. I have to say I understood all these things and Roberta’s approach to them. I have two daughters who have exactly the same personality, whom I admire tremendously too, but I wouldn’t want to be caught in their crosshairs.
Finally we got another office at the opposite end of town which I was the broker at while Blaine presided over the original office. They sent me about fifteen agents and a sweetheart of an administrator with a part time assistant. It was quite a set up. Every once in a while Blaine would drop in to see how things were going and we’d have a good chin wag.
One day he showed up at our office and was talking to the girls when the assistant administrator complained to him about my wanting things done. She wanted him to speak to me about this attitude of mine. In other words, who did I think I was being so demanding?
Well Blaine, in his inimitable laid back style only chuckled, saying that she must realize that I was the boss (broker) here and could easily fire her if her work wasn’t up to snuff. Apparently her eyes widened somewhat and she busied herself doing what I had asked in the first place. Nothing more was said. I only mention that last bit as a point of amusement in the many adventures we had together, especially at the North Kildonan office.
I still go in once a year to look in on my real estate family, pretending to be on inspection. Judging by the hugs I get, I think I am well remembered and am still part of the family. I guess I had a good time working there.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - Board Hearings

Board Hearings
I guess it’s time for a little change of pace. The Real Estate Board arguably has some purpose in the life of a real estate agent. Aside from its staff, it has a number of various committees dealing with all sorts of issues that come up in the course of daily business, so it is a source of constant activity usually involving any number of board members and committees.
One such committee is the disciplinary committee dealing with complaints against a particular agent or company. Well I was never on any such committee, but was often called as the broker of my company to defend my agent(s) on complaints made against them by either other companies, agents, buyers or sellers.  And of course there was always the reverse where one of our agents or the company was complaining about someone or something else. Regardless, it always fell on me as the company broker to represent our interests at the board.
The complaints panel was comprised of a board member of course, a member of the public, a church cleric and I don’t remember who all else. Each represented a segment of public interest (whatever that was). There was some structure to the proceedings in that the complaint was first read out and then each of the parties to it was asked to make their case for or opposed to the complaint. When it was done, you either went for coffee or back to the office, none the wiser for what the panel was about to announce. Sometimes it went well for my agent and me, and other times not so much.
 Generally, I would speak for the agent in question while he or she sat quietly nodding or shaking her/his head at my arguments, occasionally throwing in his/her two cents worth. At times the discussion could become heated, calling for a separation and perhaps coffee break, and then we’d go at it again until we got through all the issues. After that the committee would deliberate and render a verdict that had no appeal to it. One got the message and lived with it. Period.
It didn’t of course always go as planned though. One particular case I remember involved a complaint against one of our agents who was reported to have taken somebody else’s buyer at an open house. Well, I didn’t get a word in edgewise. My agent put on her warrior cloak and lit into the other company with a ferocity that put the whole committee into shock. I have to say that she had come much more prepared than I had. I had to take into account that she had come to Canada from a war torn country which maybe colored her attitude somewhat, leaving us trying to catch our breath. Ultimately though, her lack of civility caused her more problems than the business was worth and she ultimately left the business.
One of the most amazing pieces of business at the complaints committee hearings happened one morning when we were all a little early for the appointed meeting. Over a cup of coffee we got to discussing the complaint made by the opposing broker. It turned out to be a total misunderstanding on his part. Well, he decided to fix it at the meeting.
By the time everyone got settled in and read the complaint out, the broker piped up and simply stated what had transpired at coffee and that he was withdrawing the complaint. I must say that I’d never seen the committee so befuddled before. Thinking back now, it was kind of funny just to see the look on their faces, having nothing to make a judgment over. The upshot was that the broker’s company was fined five hundred dollars for having wasted the committee’s time in coming together to do nothing and we had no penalty.
There are many other stories I could tell about this part of the business (if I could remember them) but suffice it to say that it was all a toss of the dice to go into one of those meetings and ponder the outcome. I could easily have done all my homework, checked my facts and go in fully confident of the outcome, only to have it completely reversed by the committee. I was more than pleased for our company to grow to the point where we had a second broker so I wouldn’t have to go anymore.

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.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - My Financial Friend

My Financial Friend
Having revealed my adventures on the arrangement of my financial advisor friend, I suppose I should elaborate a little on our relationship. He had called up wanting to know if I had any place in the country up near Beausejour for sale. He wanted to be closer to his cottage in Bird River. Well I didn’t have one, but I was sure if there was something there I would find it. Sure enough there were a couple and we went shopping. Wouldn’t you know it, he was extremely interested in the most expensive one. I shouldn’t have sold him short because it wasn’t too long before he had put the package together.
It was about four or five months before I heard from him again, this time to come and have a look at what he and his wife had accomplished. They put on a fondue party for the four of us and we made a night of it. They had indeed made many changes to the place to suit their needs and in fact, had plowed up a fair patch for a garden to the wife’s delight. It turns out that THAT was the sticking point to not selling the cottage. She had a formidable garden at the cottage and she wasn’t about to let that go to waste.
Next thing you know, I get a call to go look at the cottage to determine its value. They’re going to be out there on the weekend so his missus can dig out some of the root plants to transfer to their new house. “Sure” I say, “glad to come. Where is it?”
He gives me directions and on a bright sunny morning the Missus and I are off to spend a pleasant day on Lee River. It was absolutely beautiful scenery as we drove along, being careful not to miss the turnoff. We found the right road and turned down it to get to the cottage. It was fairly straight so I got up some speed until suddenly there was nothing in front of us other than blue sky. HOLY CRACKERS! I was about to drive off the face of the earth! I put on the brakes and crawled on further, thinking about the flat earth society. Creeping to the edge of the abyss, I discovered a steep slope that headed straight into the river. Fortunately there was a turn off just before you drove into it.
So this was the Lee River challenge. It was just like the adventure of the BB hills off Strathcona Street in Winnipeg. If you didn’t do a hard right at the bottom of the hill, you ended up in the drink, only in Winnipeg it was a big oak tree as Lloyd Smith found out.
We pulled into the yard and found our friends working diligently about the place. He was busy raking the yard while his wife was grumpily digging out her root bulbs and placing them in boxes. Well, they both needed a break so we sat down for tea and surveyed the landscape. We decided to hold an open house there, especially trying to attract the boaters going by.
The open house was a total bust, including my fishing efforts. I never even got one bite. Fortunately, my financial friend had a family member who was willing to buy the place and I suggested he do that privately, which suited my friend, saving him a commission. I even helped him with the offer. I had been way out of my league in that transaction and was happy it was over.

That was the last I heard from my friend until the cottage assessment came up.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - Opinions of Value

Opinions of Value
One of the things about becoming a broker is the basic appraisal course which arguably allows one to value properties from different perspective. A friend and client of mine who worked for a financial investment organization had a wide network of clients in the Whiteshell chain of lakes, he himself owning a cottage on Lee River and being involved in all kinds of recreational activities. How he became a client of mine and how we struck up a friendship is a story for another time.
In this case however, we were dealing with a tax situation involving capital gains on cottages after 1972. What was needed was a valuation to be declared for the purpose of recording such capital gains after that date. It was called valuation day or V-day. As a real estate broker, I was allowed to give my valuations on cottages or secondary homes (but not other properties requiring a licensed appraiser) at a pittance of the cost of a licensed appraiser.
My financial friend did a good job of setting me up with a number of appointments so I got busy designing forms to use in the exercise. This was going to be some adventure. Of course, these appointments had to be on the weekend while people were at their cottages. It would cut into my regular real estate business, but it was regular money and it was a chance to explore the chain of lakes traveled by the Ojibway of the long distant past.
So, bright one Saturday morning I set off past the Sagkeeng First Nation, turning east up Hwy. 317 at Libau and heading into lake country. Each of the lakes was rather small and somewhat enclosed by bush and trees, surrounded by cottages and trailers. It was an idyllic setting. I went to work with my brand new forms and it turned out well. Within half an hour I was out of there and on my way to two lakes further down. It was such a beautiful sunny day that I almost missed my turn off into the next lake which was larger and more treed. It was obviously a more popular lake.
I pulled up to the address I was given and couldn’t believe my eyes. Here on the front porch was old George Mathers sitting in a chair beside an aluminum ladder, a paint tray and roller on the table beside him, having a cup of coffee. George was a painting contractor I had known for years when I was in the glass business. I hadn’t seen him for a long time, yet I recognized him immediately. He hadn’t hardly changed at all except maybe a little more grey hair. By now he must be in his mid nineties, yet here he was, painting the eaves around the cottage.
“Just what in the world do you think you’re doing?” I blurted out.
George just smiled. “You’ve got to keep things up you know. The kids are inside waiting for you.” Well he was never much of a conversationalist. I went inside to see his daughter and son-in-law who were well into their seventies and seniors in their own right.
Once I got done at the Mathers’ place I headed straight for Falcon Lake to my next appointment. There was no problem finding the place. It was a giant edifice on the lake front begging an invitation. The owner’s name was Johnston.  There was a great big “Dorwin” sign on the property, so I knew immediately who it belonged to. The old man was long dead, so this must be the son. The place had all the attributes of somebody who knew how to make a buck.
Don Johnson was waiting for me at the door and on my introduction got right down to business.  He told me this was serious business and asked if I was a straight shooter. I had expected this and replied that all my life I had never knowingly lied to anybody . . . . until I met his father.
“WHAT?” he exploded, although there was a smile on his face.
“He was the king of all liars and he could do it so well, it took me a while to catch on.”
“How did you know him?” Don wanted to know.
So I explained to him how we were working at competing glass companies and we used to check our glass quantities with one another to make sure we didn’t really make a mistake. If we found that to be true, we’d simply withdraw from the bidding (which was allowed) leaving the other bidders in place to take the contract. Once I caught on to that it became a contest of who was the bigger liar.
The grin on Don’s face broadened considerably. “Yup, that was dad alright”, he confessed. Well after that we got on like a house on fire and the visit became longer than intended.

It was strange that my visits crossed paths with so many people out of my past, but it was a good time with lovely scenery and a good income. What more could you want?

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - The Group of Seven

The Group of Seven
Well, I walked right into that one didn’t I? Now I have to tell you about the adventures of the engineer that brought him to his real estate affair. This is not really a deal that I was involved in, but it is worthwhile telling.
It seems that there were seven fellows, all professionals who wanted to have an upper class lifestyle. So they banded together and rented a place on Wellington Crescent in the older section of stately houses. Well, you’ve all heard the stories about young engineers. It seems that their parties were a little too energetic for the neighbors and the complaints against them got them booted out of the neighborhood.  Undaunted, they scoured around the area and darned if they didn’t come up with another address even more stately than the one they had been evicted from.
A place like that didn’t come cheap either. Very few people could afford to rent a place like that on their own but with a consortium it was possible. It had its economic benefits for the owner too. Almost everyone was happy and if one person left, another would take his place. Each person had his own bedroom or suite of rooms and the common area was by arrangement.
That’s how it was the night he invited us to his place after the annual Hunt Club Ball at the Canoe Club. He wanted to show us what life was like in the “upper class” I guess. So a few of us went over to see this lifestyle. I was the only one who knew he had bought the place in our neighborhood.
We gathered together at the front door, that being a giant verandah that swept across the front of the house in magnificent Tindal stone construction, and entered at the engineer’s invitation. Well! We had never seen anything like this except perhaps on television. It was indeed a grand entrance sweeping around in a semi circle and leading to two sets of stairs that led to the main floor reception area and what I assumed to be a ballroom or large public area. I looked around to see every one of our company’s mouths agape (as was mine I’m sure) at the sight that beheld them.
The engineer took us on a tour through the dining hall, the sitting room, the massive kitchen to the servants stairway, now unused, and back to the sitting room where we parked ourselves to comment on the evening and the elegant home of the engineer. He told the rest of the group that this elegant lifestyle was now marked off his to do list and he would be joining us in more subdued surroundings in the park area. He was looking forward to it.
Time passed and the engineer moved into his new digs, making a considerable number of changes to suit his lifestyle. He built a barn to house his two horses and generally settled in to life near the park.

Well this is about the end of the story of the engineer who settled in nicely and continued as an active member of the Hunt Club. He also came to my place fairly often to visit and we became good friends. I just wanted to relate the story to show how many things we as real estate agents do well to absorb and learn from.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Liar, LIar, Pants on Fire - Mrs. Greenberg's Adventure

Mrs. Greenberg’s Adventure
People who are not accustomed to reading sections, ranges and townships in the country really have no business being there in the first place. It’s definitely not the same as the street names and addresses they are accustomed to. Time after time you see them winding up within a five mile radius of their destination, not knowing where in the world they are. How to get where they are going, and an incredible fear they’ll never ever get home again.
Mrs. Greenberg was such an agent. She was a dynamic force to be reckoned with in her city property sales. Her powerful personality more or less intimidated people into doing her bidding. In fact, I was in her home office one day and was seated in what she called her ‘Real Estate’ chair.  It was a large, comfortable leather recliner that you sank into while listening to her invitation to sit. The problem was getting out of it without her assistance. She laughed, saying that she was more than willing to help as soon as the client signed the agreements she put before them on her little portable table that was conveniently set beside the chair. Actually, she was only half joking.
Well, Mrs. Greenberg had met a traffic engineer somehow in her travels. She seemed always to gravitate toward people with degrees after their name, having introduced herself as a Real Estate agent (of note, I’m sure), Of course I don’t know what conversation took place exactly, but it turned out that the engineer, a member of the Manitoba Hunt Club was looking for a place in “horse country” to pursue his hobbies, one of them being the apiary business.
“Oh, how interesting,” she exclaimed, smelling a new buyer. “I’m sure with a little research I’ll be able to find something for you. Leave it with me for a day or so.”
What could be so difficult about this, she thought. Real estate is real estate, and she went through the office records to find suitable properties with confidence. She did find several that she thought might be perfect for her new friend and called him. They set up an appointment to view some vacant land.
Full of confidence and anticipation she picked up the engineer in her big black Lincoln and took off for the outskirts of the city. She got to the north/south highway and was intimidated at the speed at which the cars were whizzing by. Finally she roared across the intersection and into the northbound traffic. The city now behind her, Mrs. Greenberg was viewing the vacant prairie, the trees and bushes on either side of the road and everything in the world that was alien to her. More than that, cars and big transport rigs were speeding past her.
As she sped along the highway she was losing her confidence. The Engineer suddenly piped up and said they’d missed the turn off. WHAT? Oh well, she’s just take the next turn off on the divided highway. That wasn’t as easy as she’s assumed. It was five kilometers past before she could swing back. It took some driving to maneuver out of the way of the gravel and transport trucks pulling up behind her and honking her out of the road.  The engineer was yelling, “There it is! THERE IT IS!”
Mrs. Greenberg barely made the corner with gravel trucks still on her trail. They were going to the pits to fill up their loads and didn’t have much time for meandering real estate agents. As she looked up the road to the trees on both sides and the hill going up, Mrs. Greenberg had a sense of foreboding. What would be on the other side of that hill? Still she drove on. Climbing the hill, she suddenly saw a big gravel truck come bursting over the top. That must be a steep hill. She hadn’t seen him approaching at all. By the time she reached the summit, there was nothing but empty space staring at her. Fortunately she had enough momentum to keep on a little further until she saw the bottom. It was a long way down!
Finally there was a road that led off from her path. She took it, swinging back around to the one she had just left and powered up the hill. That’s when absolute terror set in. All she could see was blue sky! Who knew what would be on the other side of it. She was going too fast! Finally the ground leveled out and she was on an even keel again.  Her terror dissolved into tears of relief. The engineer patted her on the shoulder and offered to drive her home. “Oh please,” she whimpered.
Once back in the city Mrs. Greenberg regained her confidence and took over the wheel again. Before she dropped the engineer off, she promised she would find somebody who could help him – which is where I came in to the picture. They had been only two miles or so from where I lived when they turned around.
The engineer was grateful to have found me and I delivered on my duty to find him a place not far from my home. We did become friends and in fact, he put some hives on my property. We saw each other quite regularly and even visited together at the hunt club annual ball.
In the end, I thanked Mrs. Greenberg for the referral and gave her a piece of the commission which pleased her no end.

As for the engineer, I must tell you what prompted him to move out to the country. It’s quite a story. But in the meantime life went on.