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.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - Murder in the Mix


Murder in the Mix
These deaths I write about are not all suicides you know. Some are a little bit more deliberate. Fortunately none of those ever happened to my clients, but one in particular case, it came close. There was a cute little place on Leila Avenue that had been sold, and then it came up on the market again. Well I had a buyer for that very exact place. We got busy right away as soon as we saw it come back on the market and wrote up an offer.
In all my real estate experience I’d never seen a counter offer come back like this one. The vendors wanted firstly, a large deposit, I think it was fifty percent up front, and an early possession. They also wanted a waver on any disparities between husband and wife until after possession. What the. . . .
When the other agent phoned me to discuss the counter offer he was a bit sheepish about how to write it so he told me the whole story:
Apparently a couple had bought the place and had been approved for financing and while waiting for possession to take place, the guy offed his wife and put her in the freezer in his back shed of their rental home. Those people were renting a place just a block over from where my son and daughter in law were living, so I knew all about it. Well I shouldn’t say I knew all about it because I don’t know why it happened, but it just did. Cops, my son said, were buzzing around the place for weeks.
Now the wife was dead, the husband was in jail for a long time with no means to pay the mortgage and the property sellers were out of pocket with their plans gone awry. There was a chance they could salvage most of what they’d lost with a quick possession. Well you can understand the sellers’ nervousness, but on the other hand there was nothing that either of us agents could do about the human condition.
The best we could come up with was to suggest the sellers meet with the buyers and satisfy themselves accordingly. In fact I suggested the sellers’ lawyer draft up a counter offer and present it. I certainly wasn’t prepared to predict a murder or non- murder, and neither was the other agent. In the end the buyers and sellers met and satisfied one another and the deal was consummated.

So that was my encounter with murder. I think I was lucky on that one and happy to get back out to the country where there was none of that crap.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - Drugs and Suicide

Drugs and Suicide
Now that I’ve got that off my chest I can go on to more suicides. These are not fun stories to remember or to tell. But they should be told so that readers will know the things that we encounter in the normal course of business. More often than not we are grief counselors, social workers, or mediators in these incidents. Experience has shown that agents just looking for a fast easy commission don’t last long in the business, but that’s a whole other set of stories.
For this one we have to go back to St. Genevieve where all the Legals and Gauthiers live. There was an almost complete tri-level house that Ulysses Legal had designed and built. It was an amazing design featuring (among other things) a mezzanine walkway across the whole second floor of the building. At first blush, it was the ideal building of a dream house and household. I was soon to discover that it was more complicated than that. My first visit was cordial enough as I went through the house in an effort to evaluate its market value. But I had a sense of tension between husband and wife, nothing I could put my finger on, but still it was there. I said I would return after I’d had a chance to determine a reasonable selling price.
On my return there was tension in the air even as I pulled up in the driveway. It only increased when I entered the house. There had apparently been a fight about selling or not selling the place. Lucille apparently didn’t want to sell at all, and he, Ulysses just wanted to be rid of it. It wasn’t very long before he had signed the agreement and she tearfully co signed.
That wasn’t the end of it. Apparently, Ulysses had gone into a depression and had become aggressive toward his wife that I later learned was what happened when he was coming down from a drug binge. I had driven out two days later to put up my “for sale” sign and went in to the house to let them know what I had done. The air was electric. Lucille had a few marks on her arms as well as a black eye. She was in an agitated state and said she was going to stay with her sister in Winnipeg for a few days.
“How are you going to get there?” I wanted to know, realizing the tension in the room.
“Oh, I’ll take the bus tomorrow,” she answered.
“No, get your things together. You’re coming into town with me,” I more or less commanded. I had a feeling that if she didn’t get out of there right away, something dangerous would happen to her. She complied and we left.
On the way Lucille broke down crying – no, sobbing about her situation. Drugs, she said. It was the drugs Ulysses couldn’t kick. Every time he tried he would, after a few days get depressed, and ultimately become aggressive. By the time we got to Lucille’s sister’s place, she had pretty well cried herself out. She thanked me for my understanding and for the ride (which probably saved her life) and left my car. I watched her go to the door and enter the house.
Pretty well rattled by the experience, I stewed over it for days. There were a number of showings on the property and I had a lockbox there so I wouldn’t have to attend each one. When an offer came in from an agent in Steinbach I did manage to close it. I can’t remember if Lucille was back home at the time or not, but suffice it to say that it was a done deal.
Now I could put it behind me and move on to something else. Ha ha, little did I know. A week or so after the deal was completed somebody found Ulysses hanging from the railing of the mezzanine floor overlooking the main entry. It was determined to be a suicide. After checking with the lawyer to confirm that the deal would stand, I promptly turned to happier thoughts when I got a call from the buyer, a machinist at Griffin Steel. He’d heard of the suicide and wanted to know what kind of a discount he could get in the price if he would proceed with the purchase.
Of course I knew that withdrawing from the sale would cost him his deposit (plus other penalties and punitive damages). It’s at times like these that my sarcastic humor automatically kicks in. I told him that the lawyers and I were trying to determine the surcharge there would be for the privilege of buying a suicide home and we would be in touch with his lawyers on determining that. He said ‘Oh’ and hung up the phone.

I don’t know if my response saved any further headaches or not but the deal finalized without any further hitches and I could go on to other things.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - Najib


Najib
I have to interrupt this hanging business for a minute because of an adventure of sorts that came to mind roughly during that time involving Najib, my Lebanese friend. I had met him at National Typewriter when I went there to buy one of these fancy speedwriters.
I don’t know whether Najib was an immigrant or a refugee from war torn (at the time) Lebanon. What he did tell me was that he had been a Telefunken agent back home, having his own shop there. He was probably hired by National Typewriter because of his expertise.
At the time in Lebanon, the various factions of Christians and Muslims would go around capturing each other’s people and holding them for ransom. If it wasn’t paid the captive would be murdered and sent home in a garbage bag. Pretty grizzly stuff that. It turns out that that was how he had found his mother one day on his front doorstep. He was stoic in relating this to me, saying only that “We Christians, We not junk people.” - referring to Muslims in general. It turns out that this had a profound effect on his choice of properties.
Based on his description of what he was interested in, I set up several appointments to view the properties and we took off to view them. On the way down Pine Ridge Road, we passed the Pine Ridge Cemetery.
“What’s that?” Najib wanted to know, swiveling his head back to look at the old, no longer used grave yard.
“Oh that’s an old cemetery,” I said. “It’s no longer used except for maintenance. It’s been here since the first settlements.”
“I don’t want to see the house,” he said. “I’m not going home every day past a cemetery. Maybe ghosts there,” he continued.
Well I couldn’t reason with him so we went on to the house where I made my excuses. That of course made us a little early for the next appointment but nonetheless, we went. Wouldn’t you know it? We passed another cemetery. It seemed every place we went to had a cemetery on the way. Well this was going nowhere fast.
“Maybe I should be looking in the city,” he suggested.
Well that would take another whole lot of research I thought.
“No, no,” Najib assured me. “I saw some places up on Selkirk Avenue I would like to look at.”
WHAT? Selkirk Avenue? Was he out of his mind? “Najib,” I stammered, “That is a tough neighborhood. You don’t want to live there!”
“No, this is further down. It’s nice there.” He gave me an address.
By this time I had gotten to know Najib well enough to realize that once he made up his mind, it stayed made up. He gave me the address of the house he wanted to see and I made the arrangements. Well, was I in for a surprise! Just about everything I could think of was wrong with the lace. The only good thing I could say about it was that it was indeed west of the tracks (which was good), but oyoyoy for the rest. It was a little two bedroom place set right to the front of a twenty-five foot lot with just enough room for a little tree planted in the middle of the front. There was a trap door leading down to an earthen cellar. I can’t quite remember the rest of the details except that everything that could be wrong with the place – was.
But Najib was resolute in is desire to purchase the place. He could, he said, fix it up in no time flat. I would be surprised at what he could do, he said. Well, alright then, we proceeded and he got the place for a ridiculously low price. His lawyer must have been a genius to have been able to get around all the caveats and restrictions attached to the place because first thing I knew was that Najib, his wife and their little son were moved in.
Najib had invited me to come and see the handiwork on his acquisition, so I went. I would have missed the place except for the sold sign which hadn’t yet been removed. The little tree had been cut down, exposing the five foot front yard to grass and the front window to all the traffic going by on this busy street.
The afternoon was awesome. I imagine it was a show of Lebanese hospitality on offer. We were in many philosophical conversations when Najib asked his wife for some Lebanese coffee and cakes for refreshment. She served up some cakes and two tiny cups of good smelling coffee.
“Take only small sips,” says Najib, “it’s very strong.”
Well what else can I take besides small sips, given the thimble size of the cup? But it’s very tasty, sweet and strong. But I’m used to twelve and sixteen ounce coffee cups, so I got finished a little early naturally.
“Make him another cup,” says Najib.
His wife (whose name I can’t remember) looked at him kind of sideways, but went dutifully to make another thimble for me. Of course it was getting a little late so I drank up and left.
After dinner that night I was telling the Missus about the nice time I’d had at Najib’s place and what a lovely little family they were. We retired about ten p.m. and I went to sleep immediately. Well immediately that is until about midnight when my eyes sprang wide open and I was suddenly wide awake. I mean WIDE awake, totally energized, almost hyper. What in blazes? That was the end of my sleep until the next evening.
It was about two years later when I was in touch with Najib again. By this time he had negotiated his way into a shop of his own with an attached residence, trading in his tiny little residence on Selkirk Avenue. I wasn’t insulted that he hadn’t dealt with me because he obviously had the talent to do it himself. But he wanted me to have a look at his investment and meet his brother who was now also in Canada on a visit.
We had a good visit again and I marveled at how he had upgraded his property and even his business. His store was not all that well stocked yet, but he was busy with repairs and upgrades. The thing about Najib was, he was always optimistic, quite unlike his brother who went on about Canadians being cold and uncaring toward their children.
“WHAT?” I said. “UNCARING? How is that possible?”  We provide them with food, shelter, clothing and whatever education they need and want, not to mention a whole lot of nurturing and love. Then (usually at about seventeen or so) when they feel they want to spread their wings, we allow them to move out on their own. Don’t kid yourself, there is still a lot of shopping going on in mom’s fridge, or dad’s car, but they are allowed to practice being adults.
Well that’s the sort of thing going through my mind as he railed on. “At home, our children stay with their parents until they are married. We teach them all things important to living good lives.”
The first thing that came to mind was ‘How’s that going for you’ – thinking of his mother. But I kept my own counsel and let it go at that. The difference between these two brothers was quite remarkable as was the difference in the view of each culture by the other.
It’s amazing the things you learn in the real estate business that have nothing to do with the real estate business. The thing is that each culture has its own traditions and therefore they are assumed to be correct. The problem arises in carrying one’s own tradition over to another culture and trying to impose it on that other culture. We’ve seen enough of that lately. But I digress.

It had been a while since I’d heard from Najib so I tried to drop in, only to find that he no longer owned the place. So I phoned down to National Typewriter to see if they knew where he’d gone. It turns out he’d sold up and went to somewhere in Texas. I had to assume it would have been a good outcome for him. While I was a little sad to lose touch with him, I could do nothing but wish him well, and move on.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire - Hanging in the Closet

Hanging in the Closet
Sooner or later I guess I have to get into the stories involving properties where people had hung themselves. In and of themselves they are naturally not happy stories. That they usually involve the use of drugs is of no comfort to the grieving families, but life goes on and as a real estate agent it is not my job to bury the dead or console the families, but to sell the property and allow them to move on.
That said, the peripheral stories of buyers can be quite amusing. I guess enough time has passed to make them so. Here’s one such story. Just to look at them was enough to put a smile on your face. He (Stuart) was a long streak of humanity, a very pleasant man with a natural curiosity about everything. She (Molly) was about half his height, also very pleasant to talk to and with more than a casual interest in everything around her. I immediately got the distinct impression that she wore the pants in the family and he went along with whatever pleased her. It was certainly a nice relationship.
I don’t remember exactly how we met, but being that he was an old railroader is enough of a clue. Mind you, he was on disability for whatever reason I never knew. What he did to amuse himself was to buy and repair clocks of all sorts, making more money at that than his disability money. Well, we won’t go into that. Molly was a teacher with plenty of time off in the summer.
They were living in an apartment, just the two of them and wanted to move into the country; some place with a picturesque view where they could relax and enjoy one another. Given that information, I began scouring around and wouldn’t you know it, there was a place right near Scotty Macgregor’s old place that had come up for sale. It was a nicely treed property on five acres with a fabulous view. The only problem was that one of the teenagers who lived in that house had hung himself in his bedroom closet while his parents were away on a weekend.
We looked at a number of properties, but that one caught Molly’s eye and she zeroed in on it. She immediately wanted to know which bedroom the hanging had taken place, under what circumstances and how long he had hung there before he was found. She basically took a cursory view around the house but honed in on the bedrooms to see if she could find signs of the hanging. I’m sure if I had asked what the living room was like, or the bathroom, she wouldn’t have been able to tell me. Perhaps it had something to do with her being a teacher that tied her to the situation and the plight of the dead boy.
Nevertheless, that was the house she wanted. As for Stuart, well, there was enough room for a workshop for him so – go for it Molly, he said to her. So they did. Well it was not so simple. It appeared that the whole family was more than dysfunctional. There were gazillion liens against the property to start with. There was a conflict with Hydro who had cut across the corner of the lot, restricting their access and causing them to drive on Hydro property to get to their place. Yurofsky, the lawyer I had recommended to them (luckily) had no idea of what he was getting himself into when he took the case on. But he knew it was going to be a long haul.
It was indeed a long haul. Every time the lawyer found one thing to hold up transfer of title, he found another thing. In fact, there were people suing people who were suing the owners. I imagine at some point the owners threw their hands up and went on living, ignoring all the legal issues and leaving a total legal mess. Yurofsky certainly earned his fee in this case.

Ultimately, as the legal issues unraveled, conditional possession was given to Stuart and Molly and they took up residence while waiting for the rest of the issues to be resolved. At that point I lost touch with them and the only communication I had was with Yurofsky himself reporting on the extremely slow progress. Finally it was all done and so was Yurofsky. He sadly died a short time later and the world lost a good and honest Real Estate lawyer.