Share your heart through a letter…

July 29, 2015

“To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.”  (Phyllis Theroux – as seen on Jack’s Winning Words some time ago.

It’s Wednesday (hump day to some) which may make you feel happy that the week is half over. Why not make someone else happy and write a letter or card to them today. There’s something much more satisfying about holding a card or letter in your hand and reading it than just staring at the screen of your computer or phone. Applications like Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter have made sending short little notes or messages to people relatively easy; however, they have also made it much less personal. The fact that many people use a form of shorthand to communicate takes even more of the personal touch out of it.

letter writingSitting down to write a letter does take an effort on your part. As part of that effort you actually spend more time thinking about what you want to say to the other person. There are no spellcheck do-overs if you are writing with ink (maybe a few cross-outs), so you spend a little more time on it and consider a little more the words that you are using. I think you also spend a little more time thinking about the person to whom you are writing. Even if you are writing to relate some news about you  or your family, rattling around in the back of your head are the memories of times together with the person to whom you are writing and probably the memories of the reason that you are taking the time to write to them.

One seldom dashes off a letter to unknown recipients, like one might do in a blog post or Tweet – the exception maybe are those nasty letters to complain about something or maybe a letter to the editor of the local paper. For the most part letters are a form of communicating that is almost as personal as being together and having a conversation. That is why they can come from the heart.

Many people save the cards and letters that they get from loved ones or letters they might have received from important people. Those letters, many times discovered much later, often document the love of people separated by events or the progress through life of good friends or relatives. Often it is the letters that were saved by someone close to them that allow us to get a better view of long gone famous people – their thoughts and views on the events happening in their time.  Do you posting a letterhave letters or cards from someone that you’ve been saving? Do you ever go back and re-read them? Does re-reading them still make you smile or feel good?

So, take the time today to sit down and write a letter or card to someone. You can get blank cards at stores that sell cards. Nicely written cards are sort of like the Tweets of letter writing, but they are still better than just a Tweet or Facebook post to someone. Make someone’s day. Share your heart with them through a letter. You’ll feel better when you’re done and they’ll feel better when they get your letter.

Don’t DIY if you don’t KWYD…

July 27, 2015

I promise that I’ll get back to my more inspirational posts starting with the next one. I just had to get this out of my system.

The popularity of many of the HGTV home fix-up shows has spawned a host of amateur DIYers and led to a host of DIY disasters. As a Realtor I end up showing a fair number of these failed projects, many of them in foreclosure. The problem is that the would-be fixer –uppers were people who didn’t KWYD (know what you’re doing).

It all looks so easy on TV, especially the demo parts where the TV personalities seem to be having fun knocking down walls to “open up rooms”. On a few of these “reality TV” shows they at least show the unexpected that can be discovered during the demo phase – the pipes that were running behind the walls or the shoddy wiring that is really a fire hazard or maybe they “discover” that the wall was load bearing after all and needs a major engineered beam to hold the second floor up. Many DIYers often hit those problems and more, plus they discover that demolition work is not fun – it’s sweaty, dirty, hard work and disposing of the resulting waste materials can be expensive, especially  in older (or historic)  homes that may still contain hazardous materials that were in common use years ago. In Michigan, for instance, there is only one dump left open that will accept asbestos waste and it is expensive if you have asbestos waste.  If you’re planning to “open up the floor plan” as part of your renovation; in order to avoid having your house cave in upon itself, get the advice of a good structural engineer before you start knocking walls down.

Once they get to the actual renovation work, many DIYers discover that they don’t have the proper tools. In some cases those tools might be rented, but in many cases they have to be bought, which is just another unplanned expense. Learning how to properly use those special tools can be frustrating, time consuming and perhaps even dangerous. Big wood or tile saws are serious tools that can bite the user. Before you even start a DIY project you should inventory the tools that you have and compare that to those that will be needed. You can get an idea about the needed tools by reading remodeling books. You might be able to get a good handle on the cost and skill needed to properly use those tools by attending one of the demonstration programs at your local Home Depot or Lowes store. Some even have some hands on training time.

Along with tools there is technique. Many aspects of a renovation job involved mastering specific techniques of working with the materials involved, especially if plaster repairs are involved. It’s not that you can’t slap a bunch of plaster up on the ceiling or wall and smooth it out; it’s that it will look like you slapped a bunch of plaster up on the ceiling or wall and tried to smooth it out.  It takes years of experience for professionals to master some of the techniques involved in their trades. Even painting is an area in which the differences in results between the average DIY person and a pro will be noticeable. You can put up all of the blue painter’s tape you want and still not get a job that looks as good as a painter who cuts his edges in with a brush and no tape at all.

Before you jump into any major remodeling project also make sure that you understand the local building codes and regulations about permits and inspections. Most projects that involve major changes to the plumbing system or the electrical system and any structural changes will require both permits and inspections by the building official for your area. I’ve seen finished projects in which the walls had to be opened up again because the DIYer forgot to pull the necessary permits or didn’t get the work inspected before the drywall went up. That can be a very expensive mistake. I’ve seen building officials make the DIYer tear down the newly installed drywall so they can inspect the plumbing or electrical work. And don’t think that because you’re working inside and you don’t think that anybody will notice that you’re making changes that you won’t have to pull a permit or get the job inspected. Many times a neighbor will report the work or just rumors on the street (or in your Facebook posts) may alert the officials.  It could also come back to haunt you when you try to sell the place. There is a question on the Seller’s Disclosure form for Michigan that specifically asks if you’ve made any structural changes to the house without permits.

The bottom line is that if you don’t know what you’re doing don’t DIY. You probably won’t end up saving the money that you thought you would and you may end up decreasing the value of your home or hurting yourself in the process.  You probably already have everything that you need for even the most demanding projects. It’s called a checkbook and the only skill needed to use it is the ability to fill out the checks. DIY using that tool and get the job done right by professionals.

What the new TILA-RESPA rules mean for the buyers or sellers

July 26, 2015

Every now and then I post something here that concerns my real estate business. This is one of those posts and it concerns the upcoming changes to the mortgage process and the closing process that will have impact on all buyers and sellers. In any profession, there are usually lots of acronyms used by the practitioners of that profession both as a form of shorthand for long, unwieldy terms and sometimes as a way to sound more important and knowledgeable in front of “lay people”. The upcoming TILA-RESPA changes are an example of that and an example of how changes usually cause concerns whether they are warranted or not.

man under papersWhen any major changes occur within industries that impact their current systems there is always a bit of “the sky is falling” reaction to them. The changes to the disclosure and closing documentation requirements for real estate transactions are no different. You have likely already seem newspaper stories about the coming TILA-RESPA changes. You may hear your Realtor® talking about it, but it primarily impacts the mortgage lenders and the title companies. Your Realtor should be able to explain things to you as well, but the primary source for information about how this might impact you should be your mortgage agent.

Here’s the gist of these rule and documentation changes.  The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was created under the Frank-Dodd legislation that was aimed at cleaning up the financial industry mess after the housing industry collapse that brought on the Great Recession. One of the actions that the CFPB took on was to clear up the confusion caused in real estate transactions by the differences in the Good Faith Estimate that the buyer got from their mortgage rep at the front end of a real estate transaction and the closing documents, including the Buyers’ and Sellers’ Closing Statements and the HUD-1 document, that the buyers and sellers got at the closing table.

Buyers often noticed differences in what they expected their costs to be and the actual costs at closing. In addition, sad looking manthe mortgage industry fell into a practice of not getting the closing information to the buyers in a timely fashion before closing (many times buyers saw the closing docs for the first time at closing). It was sometimes very difficult for the buyer to even determine how much he should bring to closing, since he did not have the final documents.  There was a need identified to standardize the information that was presented to the buyer at the front end and what they eventually see at the closing table, as well as controlling the changes that might be allowed between those two times. There was also a need to get the final closing information to the buyer well in advance of the closing date, so that they could react to any changes and know how much to bring to closing.

Based upon those needs the CFPB produced the new, consolidated TILA-RESPA documents. TILA stands for Truth in Lending Act, which was the original law that set up the requirement for the Good Faith Estimate at the front end of the deal. RESPA stands for Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, which defines the rules and documentation requirement for the closing of the sale. The CFPB decided to create new rules and documents for both ends of the sale and initially stated that they would impose those rules in August of 2015. The new document that the lender will give you at the front end is called the Loan Estimate. The new closing document packet is called the Closing Disclosure and clearly presents all of the information that used to be on the Closing Statements and the HUD-1. Best of all the Loan Estimate and the Closing Disclosure use all of the same terms and data fields (although the Closing Disclosure has some data fields concerning the cost of the sale and tax rebates on it that the loan officer would not have known at the front end) and they look very much the same. It is possible to lay them side by side and see what, if anything changed from the front to the back ends of the sale.

Based upon an outcry of the real estate industry that they didn’t want to try to implement these new things during the height o the busy real estate season, the implementation was delayed until Oct 3, 2015. All mortgage loan officers are being trained, as are all title company people and most Realtors. Your first line of questioning should probably be your mortgage rep; however,  the CFPB has also created a new Home Loan Toolkit for buyers, so that they have a clear reference guide to the new documents and the new process.  In the Toolkit are examples of the new documents as well as helpful forms to help you choose the right mortgage product and to compare mortgages if you choose to shop at more than one mortgage company.

changesOne of the other areas to pay attention to in the Toolkit and with your lender is the changes that are allowed between the initial Loan Estimate and the final Closing Disclosure. Those changes can and do occur because of changes in things like rates or closing dates or other factors; however, they are limited by the new TILA-RESPA rules and can cause the whole process to be re-set to zero if they are too large. Another new rule concerns the timing requirements on the lenders and title companies to get the Closing Disclosure documents to you. The new rules require that you have them in-hand three days prior to closing. That not only gives you time to get the necessary funds ready, but also to review and challenge any changes that you see that you don’t understand of maybe don’t agree with your lender about. Keep in mind, however, that any changes that may be made during that three day period may reset the clock and push back the closing. There are exceptions which define acceptable last minute changes, but they are few and relatively minor, compared to some of the “closing table surprises” that used to take place under the old system.

So, the sky is not falling. From the perspective of the buyer or seller, these rules and document changes are a good thing and hopefully will make life easier. The mortgage and title company people will adapt, even while grumbling about all of the extra work and time involved (it will likely add about a week to the process). I recommend that you go download the CFPB Toolkit if you will be in the market for a house this fall. Read through it so that you will be an informed consumer who knows what his/her rights are and what to expect in the process.

A mother’s unconditional love…

July 25, 2015

“And she loved a little boy – even more than she loved herself” – Brooke  Bushuiakovish

That little quote is all over Pinterest and I see it on a sign in the yard of a neighbor when I walk my dogs. It has to be about a mother’s love for her little boy (or children in general). I was reminded how strong that love that a mother can have for her children in a conversation with my wife not too long ago. I forget what sparked the mother and babydiscussion, perhaps a story on the nightly news; but, I made the comment to my wife that the loss of a spouse must be the most painful loss that a person could suffer. Her reply initially surprised me, but in retrospect makes a lot of sense.

She said that for her the loss of one of our children would be the worst thing. When I asked her why she thought that way; her reply was very honest and logical. She said, “Well I expect you to die someday; but, I don’t expect any of my children to die while I’m alive.” Underlying that statement was the love of a mother for her children that most men (fathers) probably don’t understand. There is a bond of unconditional love that begins in the womb that is even stronger that the bonds of marriage.

There are few (yes there are some) examples in the animal kingdom of offspring being cared for from birth by the male of the species; however, for the most part the males are out doing other things while the females are carrying the babies and after their birth. In fact, there are many examples where the female must guard her children against attack by their own fathers. Unfortunately we have examples of that as humans, too.mother and children

So, I have accepted the fact that in the hierarchy of devoted love, I rank below our children. I love them, too; but, admittedly will never know or have the level of love for them that their mother has. Sitting in the waiting room for hours when they were born doesn’t quite measure up to carrying them for 9 months and I understand that. For she loves her little boy and her little girl more than she loves herself; and oh, yeah, she loves that guy over there, too, almost as much.

Have a great weekend.

Blowin’ in the wind…

July 20, 2015

“We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.” – Dolly Parton

I had never imagined Dolly Parton as a nautical person, but today’s quote is attributed to her. It is somehow appropriate, given that the Port Huron to Mackinaw Island sailboat race is this past weekend.

That cute little saying is a good metaphor for making the adjustments that we all need to make in life to deal with the winds of change that always swirling around us.

sailboatI’m not a sailor, so I won’t take this sailing analogy too far. I understand that it is possible to sail into the wind by tacking back and forth and that one can run with the wind by using the proper sail. Sometimes when the winds of life are blowing against us we have to tack back and forth, too; seeking a way to move ahead. Sometimes the wind is at our backs and we get to relax and enjoy things for a while. Many times we may feel like we are being swept along by the winds of change that are blowing through our lives. For the most part we need to constantly be aware of the winds around us in our lives and adjust our sails accordingly.

It is important to accept the first part of the little saying for today – we cannot direct the wind. Some people get really hung up on that, either trying to direct the things going on around them or wasting time lamenting those things that they cannot change. Stuff happened. The winds blow. We cannot change that; but, we can change how we react to the winds; we can adjust our sails.

Some sailors have instruments and some have sophisticated weather devices to help them “see” the wind directions around them. We have only our senses and our awareness to detect what is happening around us. Some of us are better at that than others. Have you ever known someone who seemed to be oblivious about what was happening around them? Have you ever been that person? Maybe you’re just the opposite and “see” thingsill wind that appear to be happening around you, some of which may just be your imagination. The conspiracy-theorists see things that others can’t see and react to things that may just be imagined.

However the winds blow you need to be able to make adjustments to your sails, to how you react to those winds to stay on course. As you get older and wiser, you learn how to make those adjustments quicker and sometimes you learn that you can ride out many things without adjusting your sails at all. Not all things in life need or deserve a reaction from you. Some are best ignored. Many “incidents” in life may not be the slights or snubs or crises that you imagine them to be, but rather simple misunderstandings on your part or on the part of someone else. Adjustments are not required, just understanding or patience or both.

Here’s hoping that you have smooth sailing in the week ahead and don’t have to make a lot of adjustments to your sails. Enough already with the sailing thing!

What’s your take on everything?

July 17, 2015

“The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.”  (Oscar Wilde) – as seen on the Jack’s Winning Words blog.  Jack went on to write – A recent study shows that people, 69 and older, tend to believe too-good-to-be-true promises.  Internet feedback shows that middle-agers are conspiracy-prone.  If it’s not “the gov’t,” it’s a religious plot, or Wall St.  And, of course, it’s nothing new that the young know everything.  Haven’t you ever been young?  But…beware of stereotypes!

I guess I must still be thinking somewhat like a middle-aged person. I don’t believe in the various conspiracy theories and BS that many of the arch-conservative political groups seem to be trying to spread all of the time; however, I’ve yet to send money to a stranded friend who is apparently stuck in London after someone stole his wallet and passport. I usually tell them that all of my money is currently tied up trying to help the ex-Finance Minister of Botswana get his family fortune out of the country.  I suspect that I will take a healthy amount of skepticism with me forever.

know it allI do meet adults from time to time who apparently never grew out of their belief that they already know everything. It’s no longer cute or forgivable in someone who surely should have gained at least enough intelligence to realize how little they actually know.  In my real estate business I do run into older people who have become quite trusting of everyone and everything and I try to make sure that I do nothing to betray that trust.

Where are you on the “everything” spectrum?  Do you know everything, suspect everything or accept everything? Probably most of us have elements of all three in our personalities, maybe with the scale tipping further towards believing everything as we grow older; although I know some pretty paranoid older people who don’t seem to be able to move beyond the conspiracy-theory mindset. They don’t trust anybody.

I think another thing happens as you age and that has to do with your religious beliefs. Children start out as believers because they want to please others. They say they believe, without understanding really what that know it all 2means, because adults in their lives may tell them that they should believe. Somewhere in their youth many tend to wander from those beliefs because they become distracted by other things in life that they think are more important. Their lack of faith may take on what they think is a weighty conscious skepticism about everything they’ve been told to believe up to that point – it’s an intellectual rebellion as much anything rooted in their rebellion against all things that they’ve been told they must do or how they’ve been expected to conduct themselves. Many beers are consumed in colleges as that debate rages into the night.

Later, as true adults, a good number return to religion because they realize that something has been missing from their lives. An unfortunately large number, however, continue their life journey without the touchstone of faith to act as a moral compass and comfort through life’s trials. It takes a crisis or some life changing event to bring most of those people back into some recognition that faith is a key missing element in their lives. Some never make it back and that is sad.

shield of faithFor the older people there almost always comes a moment when they finally ask themselves, “What’s next?”  Without faith there is no satisfactory answer to that question. So, maybe it’s not so much as Wilde put it, “The old believe everything”; so much as it is that they finally believe something (again). As I age, I don’t sit around contemplating the end; however, I find increasing comfort in the belief that death here on earth is not the end. That’s actually frees me to go on about a productive life and to enjoy each day.

So, what do you believe? You certainly don’t know everything, and you don’t need to be suspicious about everything and you really shouldn’t believe everything; however, at your very core,  you do need to believe in something. For me that something is my faith. What have you got?

What it was, what it is and what it yet may be…

July 15, 2015

“People always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be.”  (Marcel Pagnol) – as seen on the Jack’s Winning Ways blog recently.

I have some fond memories from the past, but I’m not sure that those really were “the good ole days.”  There wereman relaxing
lots of things that could have been better back then and many of them have gotten better. Perhaps we were better off somehow when we were not as connected as we are now. There is a simple contentment in being blissfully ignorant about what is happening around you.

politiciaN SPEAKINGPoliticians almost always try to paint a picture of better days ahead for America, as if the present is somehow terrible, especially if the other party can somehow be blamed for the mess that they say we are currently suffering. Most of us likely think that things will get better in the future, although the recent Great Recession has left a lingering pessimism about that future. For some the good ole days will forever be the pre-recession time when money flowed like water and no one was concerned about tomorrow.

As for the present, many have adopted the phrase “it is what it is” in a defeatist acceptance of things that need to be changed or improved. I prefer to say “it is what we make of it” and look for ways to change the things that need attention. What is you view of the present? Is it a pit that you feel trapped in or a springboard for tomorrow? Are afraidyou just accepting the day as it happens or using the day to make things happen? Do you see yourself as a victim of circumstances or as an victor in the daily struggles of life. Do you ask “Why me?” or say “Why not me?” Are you looking for excuses or looking for opportunities? The day , the week, the month and the rest of your life is what it yet may be. What are you doing with that?

The future may be less resolved than you would like it to be, but it is only through your resolve that it becomes clear. It is what you make it. Have a great day and resolve to look for opportunities not excuses.