Saturday, April 21, 2018

Liar, Liar,Pants on Fire - Purely a Business Venture

Purely a Business Venture
I don’t really know where to begin this story because it really comes in two parts. No, not two parts but probably four or five. Life cannot ever be simple it seems. It started off with our company hiring a Mrs. Park, a somewhat controversial commercial agent. Not that she was so controversial but rather she marched to her own drummer and had difficulty with Real Estate rules in Canada. I spent a lot of time sorting out her real estate problems during the course of her business. She somehow couldn’t get the hang of doing business in Canada, more or less following her Korean ideas.
Her husband was an entrepreneur, buying and selling things between Korea and here and he seemed like a personable fellow. We first got involved in a meat plant I had for sale in Killarney. It didn’t work out in this case because the plant was only provincially licensed and in order to export one needed a federal approval.
Well we got to talking on the way back and I discovered that Peter had apparently escaped from North Korea and had come to Canada. While here he had written a book on martial arts of some sorts. He had opened a grocery store which had been highly successful and had become an elder in the Korean United Church. He had also been an elder and advisor in the Korean community. Something happened to his business and he had to sell the store, causing a diminishing “respect” in the community for him, but somehow he prevailed and exercised a still formidable respect in his community.
All of this is a pretext to the story I want to tell. I had been working with an Indigenous group of artists in connection with a non-profit organization I had founded.  One day I get a phone call from a fellow who said so and so had recommended he speak to me about an animated video project he was trying to get published. He needed me to find him some funding and/or some means of getting it done. Could I please meet with him? Well of course I could! This would be another adventure.
We had to meet at his place since he had everything laid out there. I got to the door at a nice little place in Fort Garry and it was all surprises from here on in. Firstly, a six foot six bodybuilder filled the door frame as he welcomed me in a soft spoken voice as his big hand closed over mine.
Up in the loft of his house there were drawings and notes of all sorts spread out over a variety of tables set up between weight lifting equipment. His day job, or rather night job as it turned out was being a bouncer at a local bar, which then turned a light on in my head. His friend who had referred him to me was also a bouncer (and an artist). I couldn’t figure out how that squared up but paid it no particular mind.
Basically what my new friend had was a whole raft of beautiful and articulate drawings that followed a story line, but he hadn’t got beyond the concept of what he wanted to achieve. There was another thing he wanted to achieve (which didn’t make any sense to me on the surface of things). He wanted the proceeds (or a portion thereof) to go to rescuing the endangered white rhinoceros. That didn’t make any sense to me either until I discovered that the L.A. zoo was working to do just that. Also, Lou Ferigno was in the area and would do a video on the animal. The light went on. My client wanted to meet Ferigno. Well alright then, who was I to argue?
When I told all this to my Korean entrepreneur friend, his eyes just lit up. He could accommodate this. He knew people in Korea who did this sort of thing. He would make a few phone calls and get back to me. I in the meantime got to work to complete a formal business plan including naming all the stakeholders and payment schedule for each.
There are many side stories I could tell about this adventure but the whole thing would become too cumbersome, so I’ll just summarize as best I can. To start with, I completed my business plan for my friend with what information I had and left it with him. Funding was scraped together by my Korean investor for the trip to L.A, and for a trip to Korea to meet the animators which was apparently necessary according to custom. Five days in Korea got the business started and the animators were then to come to Winnipeg to present their story board to my client.
The first thing I know (just before the arrival of the Korean delegation) my investor is driving a brand new Cadillac. Well, he reasoned, you can’t drive around in just any crummy car so he dipped into the budget for that. Another five days went by and I heard from my animator client that he had been approached by my Korean friend to have me removed from the equation. What did he need me for anyway? By eliminating me from the profit picture, he would save a lot of money.
Things went quickly south from there. Apparently the Korean company had been cleaned out (by my investor friend) and they had to go home with their tails between their legs and declare bankruptcy. He in the meantime saw his chances of being a big time movie director slipping away. So he decided to have it out with me and came to my office.
Well, we sat down and began discussing the whole affair. It didn’t go particularly well. Did I get paid for any of my services, he wanted to know. Yes of course I did. That seemed to inflame him. Didn’t I know he had come from North Korea? He had killed a lot of people before and it wouldn’t bother him to put me away too. When I didn’t react to his threat, he decided he had other things to do and left my office.
I don’t think I ever spoke to him after that, but came to a satisfactory conclusion with my animator friend. In fact, he sent me the most hilarious copy of the tape with Lou Ferigno trying to get that stupid rhino to co-operate while he was speaking. That in itself was reward enough.
I didn’t much stay in touch with the animator/bouncer after that. His father had recently died and left the family in somewhat of an uproar. I did speak to his mother though a few times on advice about their real estate, but slowly that all petered out and I went on with my business.

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.