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A Crisis in Confidence

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As True Today as 30 Years Ago

It is a crisis of confidence.

It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

It’s amazing how some things have changed little in the span of a generation. And it’s also amazing how much different many things are now compared to then.

When President Carter spoke of spiraling gas prices, regular – real regular, not the then-oxymoronic regular unleaded – had crept over a dollar a gallon. I still remember not only the first time I saw a one appear on a gas station price board but also my mother’s reaction. You would have thought the world had ended.

Fast forward to today when it was with a wry smile I noticed that I’ll be filling up my tank tomorrow at around $2.97 a gallon – still exorbitant, but a far sight better than the $4.57 I spent in San Diego in late June on a return from Legoland.

On the flip side, I recently heard from a buyer who repeated what I’ve heard on and off for the last year and change – interest rates are too high. Really? Rates in the 6s sure look better than the rates in the teens that the nation was facing 30 years ago.

Much of what you see both on Wall Street and on the housing market is driven by fear. Fear of the future. Fear of the unknown. Fear that we’re going to make decisions that will prove costly down the line.

The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years.

Is it that much different these days?

Writers Block Strikes RE.net En Masse

Over the past couple of weeks, posts have been appearing discussing the writers’ block suffered by the author. Maybe it’s a matter of feeling like everything’s been said about the nuts and bolts of real estate. I know that was the root of mine. Or maybe it’s just a lack of motivation to try and write at a time when it’s so damned hard to be certain of anything.

2008 will mark my best year in this business in terms of gross commissions, and just a smidge lower in total sales volume than I recorded during the market’s rocket ride in 2005. Yet I often find myself … tired. Or, more to the point, worn down.

This isn’t a complaint – I chose this business, after all. But maintaining the necessarily cheery demeanor in the face of 700-point swings in the Dow is a bit difficult. I don’t have the luxury of screaming to mask my fear (and my errors) like Jim Cramer. And it doesn’t get any more personal as an exercise as when you’re doing this in your own car with clients inches away who are seeking validation of their decisions.

(Editor’s note: as I write this, the local high school is having its Homecoming game, which is the only time that fireworks are fired. My family just reacted like we were in London circa WWII as the explosions thundered above the house. Back to our tale.)

If I truly believed the decisions being made were bad ones, I wouldn’t be in real estate. Still, it’s hard not to be influenced by everything else going on in the nation and in the world.

We remember when the phrase “sound as a dollar” was an expression of absolute dependability, until ten years of inflation began to shrink our dollar and our savings. We believed that our nation’s resources were limitless until 1973 when we had to face a growing dependence on foreign oil.

These wounds are still very deep. They have never been healed.

Looking for a way out of this crisis, our people have turned to the Federal Government and found it isolated from the mainstream of our nation’s life. Washington, D.C., has become an island. The gap between our citizens and our government has never been so wide. The people are looking for honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false claims and evasiveness and politics as usual.

What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests.

You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.

Often you see paralysis and stagnation and drift. You don’t like it, and neither do I. What can we do?

Searching for the Answer

It’s not difficult to feel somewhat alone even in the real estate blogging world. Most exude such a high level of confidence, you wonder if they feel any of the same doubts, whether they have the same concerns.

Whether they do really is irrelevant, of course, aside from the need for assurance. At the end of the day, we’re responsible for the course of our own career and for the clients we either do or do not help. Even as the stock and currency markets have gyrated, registrations through my Phoenix Real Estate search (thanks, Mariana, for the idea of the blatant plug) have remained steady.

Real estate remains in demand, not as an investment, but as a statement of stability. A place to call home. It’s in these registrations and these inquiries that I see the seeds of the recovery, the slow-smoldering embers of home buried in the ash. And that’s where I turn for the inspiration it seems so many of us need these days.

I do not promise you that this struggle for freedom will be easy. I do not promise a quick way out of our nation’s problems, when the truth is that the only way out is an all-out effort. What I do promise you is that I will lead our fight, and I will enforce fairness in our struggle, and I will ensure honesty. And above all, I will act.

If anyone had told me that I’d write a post centered around any speech from President Carter, I likely would have suggested they seek some psychiatric help. But given the belief that the past is prologue, it was more than a little stunning to discover the same themes with which this nation was concerned 30 years ago still haunt us to some degree today.

Can this second crisis of confidence be overcome? That, my friends, we’ll have to wait and see.

Jonathan Dalton is a Realtor with RE/MAX Desert Showcase in Peoria, Arizona and is the author of the All Phoenix Real Estate blog as well as a half-dozen neighborhood sites. His partner, Tobey, is a somewhat rotund beagle who sleeps 21 hours a day.

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13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Steve Simon

    October 18, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Thirty years does not change a human much, not as a species anyway.
    We are what we were; frail, fearful, when we are at our worst. Resiliant and hopeful when we are at our best.
    When you reach your fifties and hopefully later, being alone isn’t that bad:)
    Feelings canbe changed as quickly as you change your thoughts. If youare happy continue to ponder as you were. If you are fearful or sad, think about something else for a while.
    You sound pretty normal to me Jonathan 🙂

  2. Cindy in Indy Marchant

    October 18, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Hi Jonathan, this was the perfect article for me to read today. I have been blogging only a short time but over the last few months very regularly and with omph! But over the last few weeks I too find myself with nothing original to say and have made very few comments too. I like to say something worthwhile, even if it is a comment.

    On real estate, what a great testimony to this down market, you are having your best year ever. That says so much about your tenacity, your dedication and your attitude about this market.

    I too am exhausted. Most of the transactions I have had this year have been filled with issues. I had an onslaught of Ameridreams that are always a bit of work, I have had appraisers that are scared to really consider my input, I have had lenders asking for everything but blood and first borns. I have sellers that don’t get this market…that want to hold out for a better price. It has been hard to keep my cool when I am blamed for it not selling when they won’t implement what they hired me to tell them to do.

    On the market, what can I say that hasn’t already been said. Things go in cycles, mistakes were made, correction is costly. But, my focus has never been on the money or the business per se, my focus is on how I live my life and who I honor on a daily basis. So, that keeps me grounded, but the winds blow strong and it has been hard this year to be grounded.

    Your post made me reflect; and I needed that today.

  3. Brad Nix

    October 18, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    I haven’t been able to put my finger on it, thanks for doing so for me Jonathan. I haven’t written much on my blogs lately and I realize now it’s because I am more unsure about my own decisions than ever before. Perhaps it’s because that’s all that surrounds us…fear and indecision – and constant coverage by bloggers and conventional media. I took some time off to be with friends and family and work on relationships that matter most over the last month. Now I am resolved to wade back into the RE.net pool and hopefully be back to making waves soon. Thanks for being real.

  4. Kathy Drewien

    October 18, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Jonathan, I appreciate your excerpts from Jimmy Carter’s speech Energy and the National Goals – A Crisis in Confidence delivered July 15, 1979.

    I found these comments to be inspirational:

    This is not my best year in real estate. And yet, I am still in business. The franchise I joined in 1994 closed it’s doors less than 3 weeks ago after being in business 26 years.

    Why did they not survive and I am still here? I don’t know.

    What I do know is adversity makes me stronger. My greatest ideas are generated when my back is against the wall. Although it would be nice to have someone say, “Way to go!” when I’m stepping out in faith, it’s rare.

    As I told my girlfriends at lunch today, “I’m free!” If you want to know more about how I gained freedom, give me a shout.

  5. Kathy Drewien

    October 18, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    The blockquote did not appear correctly. My intent was Carter’s comments to appear – not mine!!!

    “We’ve got to stop crying and start sweating, stop talking and start walking, stop cursing and start praying. The strength we need will not come from the White House, but from every house in America.”

    We know the strength of America. We are strong. We can regain our unity. We can regain our confidence. We are the heirs of generations who survived threats much more powerful and awesome than those that challenge us now. Our fathers and mothers were strong men and women who shaped a new society during the Great Depression, who fought world wars and who carved out a new charter of peace for the world.

    We ourselves are the same Americans who just ten years ago put a man on the moon. We are the generation that dedicated our society to the pursuit of human rights and equality. And we are the generation that will win the war on the energy problem and in that process, rebuild the unity and confidence of America.

  6. Elaine Reese

    October 18, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    “Old lady here”! I survived the 60’s Viet Nam era when I had to worry about a husband getting drafted and leaving me with our young daughter. He didn’t because he worked for a high-security company and was able to get a deferment plus he was still in college.

    I survived the early 70’s through the War protests and the National Guard on campus when I was able to attend college (after hubby was done).

    I survived the late 70’s when our fixed rate mortgage was 11%. Our friends were strapped if they had one of the no-cap loans with rates that went to 16-21%. We survived the long gas lines because we had small foreign cars before they were popular – and considered a necessity.

    I survived the 80’s as a single Mom working my way up the corporate ladder while going to college at night for 6 years. I got my degree one week and became a Grandma the next week. I was doing very well – made very good money – built a good portfolio – and was on track for a nice retirement nest egg.

    In the mid-90’s I was part of a large RIF. Life hasn’t been the same since. I was “too old” to be hired so went into real estate since it seemed to offer a means to more closely proximate my former salary, plus it was a career I wouldn’t have to stop when I became 65 – which I did last month.

    I’m been working hard all my life, and this year I’m working even harder. My business is up over last year, and my income is up even more thanks in large part to my WP blog. I try to stay positive, and when it gets tough, just go back to my mantra that has helped me for years … When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Instead of pity parties, I try to look for the fork in the road that allows me to explore new opportunities when bad things happen. That same philosophy applies to marketing myself as well as my client’s homes.

    So ….. been there, done that, got the T-shirt … and I DON’T want to share my “wealth”. I work too hard for it. Stay positive, Jonathan! This too shall pass.

  7. Paula Henry

    October 18, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    Jonathan –

    You may have hit upon the essence of what is really driving the economy and decisions in todays fragile market. FEAR! In and of itself, fear can not master us, however the fear we see in others makes it much harder to stand in confidence.

    I too am having a good year, but lately have had many more buyers turned down for credit and those who do qualify are afraid to make a decision.

    I have suffered from my own writing blocks, more so, just busy and when business calls, one must be ready. Yes, much has been written about real estate and often there seems not more to expound upon – yet, those of us who find it within us to carry on, will be glad we did.

    Thanks for a much needed post! Cheers!

  8. Missy Caulk

    October 18, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    Jonathan, I so appreciate your articulating what I have been feeling. The whole election thing is just dragging me down and just not in the mood to deal with real estate posts, either write them or read them. Right now posts like this that hit on the emotional level are what I need and can relate to. So friend we are in the same spot, we’ll move on things will get back to normal.

  9. Benn Rosales

    October 18, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    I think you have to go on business as “unusual.” Meaning, cling to the things you can control, accept the things you cannot, and do the things that you’ve always done, but better.

    Sitting around fearing the unknown is enough to kill the soul.

    Get aggressive, challenge yourself, challenge others, be inspiring, and above all else, allow youself to be inspired by the little things.

    just my 2

  10. Jonathan Dalton

    October 19, 2008 at 9:40 am

    Steve – you’re in the minority on the normal opinion, but I’ll take it. 🙂

    Cindy, Brad, Paula, Missy – glad to see I struck a chord. That was the hope.

    Benn – absolutely right. And there have been moments over the past year when I’ve done just that, spending more time wringing my hands than putting them to work. Sometimes it’s easy to snap out of such a mood, sometimes it’s not. But there’s no question that this is the time to be aggressive and also be real.

    Elaine – appreciate it. These usually are the times when I start another website, pursue another avenue toward client acquisition. The odd part is I’ve been too busy to do it of late, which is a good thing.

    My overall hope is we can pull each other out of the malaise many of us slip into at times like this. Isn’t that what friends are for? (Cue the Dionne Warwick music)

  11. Charleston real estate blog

    October 19, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    Jonathan, while I appreciate your efforts to pull friends out of the “malaise”, I have to go with Benn’s idea of taking responsibility but I fear that most voters will prefer to be taken care of instead of taking care of themselves.

  12. Vicki Moore

    October 21, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    I really enjoy your writing. It’s a unique, creative and fun style.

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Is the real estate industry endorsing Carson’s nomination to HUD?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Ben Carson’s initial appointment to HUD was controversial given his lack of experience in housing, but what is the pulse now?

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NAR strongly backs Dr. Carson’s nomination

When President-Elect Donald Trump put forth Dr. Ben Carson’s name as the nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, NAR President William E. Brown said, “While we’ve made great strides in recent years, far more can be done to put the dream of homeownership in reach for more Americans.”

At the time of nomination, the National Association of Realtors (the largest trade organization in the nation) offered a positive tone regarding Dr. Carson and said the industry looks forward to working with him. But does that hold true today?

The confirmation hearings yesterday were far less controversial than one would expect, especially in light of how many initially reacted to his nomination. Given his lack of experience in housing, questions seemed to often center around protecting the LGBT community and veterans, both of which he pledged to support.

In fact, Dr. Carson said the Fair Housing Act is “one of the best pieces of legislation we’ve ever had in this country,” promising to issue a “world-class plan” for housing upon his confirmation…

>>>>>Click to continue reading…<<<<<

#CarsonHUD

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Job openings hit 14-year high, signaling economic improvement

The volume of job openings is improving, but not across all industries. The overall economy is improving, but not evenly across all career paths.

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Job openings hit a high point

To understand the overall business climate, the U.S. Labor Department studies employment, today releasing data specific to job vacancies. According to the department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLT) for April, job openings rose to 5.38 million, the highest seen since December 2000, and a significant jump from March’s 5.11 million vacancies. Although a lagging indicator, it shows strength in the labor market.

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The Labor Department reports that the number of hires in April fell to 5 million, which indicates a weak point in the strong report, and although the volume remains near recent highs, this indicates a talent gap and highlights the number of people who have left the labor market and given up on looking for a job.

Good news, bad news, depending on your profession

That said, another recent Department report notes that employers added 221,000 jobs in April and 280,000 in May, but the additions are not evenly spread across industries. Construction jobs rose in April, but dipped in professional and business services, hospitality, trade, and transportation utilities. In other words, white collar jobs are down, blue collar jobs are up, which is good or bad news depending on your profession.

Additionally, the volume of people quitting their jobs was 2.7 million in April compared to the seven-year high of 2.8 million in March. Economists follow this number as a metric for gauging employee confidence in finding their next job.

What’s next

If you’re in the market for a job, there are an increasing number of openings, so your chance of getting hired is improving, but there is a caveat – not all industries are enjoying improvement.

If you’re hiring talent, you’ll still get endless resumes, but there appears to be a growing talent gap for non-labor jobs, so you’re not alone in struggling to find the right candidate.

Economists suspect the jobs market will continue to improve as a whole, but this data does not pertain to every industry.

#JobOpenings

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Gas prices are down, so are gas taxes about to go up?

Do low gas prices mean higher gas taxes are on the way? Budgeting for 2015 just got a bit more complicated, if some politicians have their way.

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Gas taxes and your bottom line

Many industries rely heavily on time in their vehicle, not just truck drivers and delivery trucks. Sales professionals hop in their vehicles throughout the day, as do many other types of professionals (service providers like plumbers, and so forth). For that reason, gas prices and taxes are a relevant line item that must be budgeted for 2015, but with politicians making the rounds to push for higher gas taxes, budgeting becomes more complicated.

Gas prices are down roughly 50 cents per gallon compared to a year ago, which some analysts say have contributed to more money in consumers’ pockets. Some believe that this will improve holiday sales, but others believe the timing is just right to increase federal taxes on gas. The current tax on gas is 18.40 cents per gallon, and on diesel are 24.40 cents per gallon.

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Supporters and opponents are polar opposites

Supporters argue as follows: gas prices are low, so it won’t hurt to increase federal gas taxes, in fact, those funds must go toward improving our infrastructure, which in the long run, saves Americans money because smoother roads mean better gas mileage and less congestion.

Gas taxes have long been a polarizing concept, and despite lowered gas prices, the controversial nature of the taxes have not diminished.

While some are pushing for complete abolition of federal gas taxes, others, like former Pennsylvania Governor, Ed Rendell (D) tell CNBC, “Say that cost the average driver $130 a year. They would get a return on that investment” in safer roads and increased quality of life, he added.

The Washington Post‘s Chris Mooney points out that federal gas taxes have been “stuck” at 18 cents for over 20 years, last raised when gas was barely a dollar a gallon and that the tax must increase not only to improve the infrastructure, but to “green” our behavior, and help our nation find tax reform compromise.

Is a gas tax politically plausible?

Mooney writes, “So, this is not an argument that a gas tax raise is politically plausible — any more than a economically efficient tax on carbon would be. It’s merely a suggestion that — ignoring politics — it might be a pretty good idea.”

Rendell noted, “The World Economic Forum, 10 years ago, rated us the best infrastructure in the world,” adding that we “need to do something for our infrastructure, not in a one or two year period, but over a decade.”

Others would note that this rating has not crumbled in just a few years, that despite many bridges and roads in need of repair, our infrastructure is still superior to even the most civilized nations.

Regardless of the reasons, most believe that Congress won’t touch this issue with a ten-foot pole, especially leading up to another Presidential campaign season starting next year.

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Whether the time is fortuitous or not, and regardless of the positive side effects, many point to a fear of voters’ retaliation against any politician siding with a gas hike, so this matter going any further than the proposal stage is unlikely.

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