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Man in the Mirror

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A Self-Imposed Examination

I’ve been so intensely focused of late on the tasks at hand, that I haven’t taken time to gaze into my reflection.

“There is no greater test of character but when a person is alone with their thoughts.”

Maybe I was afraid of what I’d see. Could I handle the introspection and scrutiny? Would my self-confrontation uncover some repressed sense of guilt? Perhaps an admission as an accessory at the very least?

The Sub-Prime Domino Affect

No sooner had the Sub-Prime debacle sent its shock-waves reverberating throughout the country, leaving Fannie and Freddie in it’s wake, then we watched in rapt fear as Wall Street began to implode. Hallowed institutions that had long been the bedrock of our financial security, faltered and crumbled around us. The destructive dominoes tripping their way into the housing market, and ultimately, our livelihood.

Is that Robert De Niro?

“What does all of this have to do with me?” I asked the face staring back.

I had one of those Robert De Niro “Taxi Driver” moments.

“You looking at me?”  “You looking at ME?!?”  “Yeah, I’m looking at You!”

Whose to Blame?

During a recent Presidential debate, the moderator asked the candidates who was responsible for the recent sub-prime mess. While both sides were quick to find fault with the opposing party, they mutually agreed that there was plenty of blame to be spread around. Buyers who either falsified income amounts or overextended their budgets; loan officers who found ‘creative’ loopholes to dodge funding requirements; underwriters who relaxed their requirements to cash-in on a fast, feeding-frenzy market; Wall Street investment houses who continued serving the bundled loans as champagne, when they knew it was tainted kool-aid ; and federal regulators either on the take, or asleep at the wheel.

Return of “Taxi Driver”

“You looking at Me?”  The face staring back was now becoming a bit annoying.

What about me? Where was I in the midst of all this breakdown? Is it possible that I had some small part to play? Did I help contribute to the desperate situation we’re in today?

Name That Transaction!

Slowly, my mind began to replay the multitude of transactions, the names and faces passing by like roadsigns along a busy freeway. In my heart, I knew there were no deliberate, intentional acts or willful transgressions. But had I ‘aided’ and ‘abetted?’ Was I an accessory to this national crime?

As I looked back over the years, I was fortunate to know most of my clients through personal referral or repeat business. But as with most of us, there were a few of the ‘usual’ suspects that resulted from floor calls, an Internet lead, or a sign call. You typically prefer to recommend a reliable, trusted lending partner from your network, but that doesn’t always work out. A few ‘fly-by-nights’ find their way into the mix. You begin to realize there’s a problem when they’re idea of Earnest Money for a $300K offer is less than $500. And they want to pay the Home Inspector out of escrow. Tell tale signs.

I don’t know of a single client of mine who has defaulted on their loan, or ended in foreclosure. It’s possible there might be one or two that I haven’t maintained contact with. Maybe I’m harder on myself than I really need to be.

Sleeping at Night

Part of me justifies the process with the reality that if I hadn’t sold the house, some other agent would have. I didn’t twist any one’s arm. I didn’t force them to sign those closing documents.

But could I have done things differently? Would it have made any difference? Instead of sitting passively at the closing, should I have stood up on the table and boldly announced, “Don’t Fund and Record, they can’t afford this house!”

No. Instead, I’m sitting here, looking at my reflection, and liking what I see, except for the grey.

Writer for national real estate opinion column AgentGenius.com, focusing on the improvement of the real estate industry by educating peers about technology, real estate legislation, ethics, practices and brokerage with the end result being that consumers have a better experience.

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Danilo Bogdanovic

    October 8, 2008 at 9:15 am

    There are agents and LO’s out there that can’t say the same. Wonder how they sleep at night…

  2. Mike Mueller

    October 8, 2008 at 9:27 am

    “except for the grey”?

    I like the grey. I think you look good with a “touch of grey”.

    Seriously, I’ve looked back as well. I can honestly say I can sleep well with the loans I’ve done.

    Maybe I’m a bit skewed. I had a Payment Option Arm factory, sharing the same floor in our office building for years. No loan officers, just direct mailers by the millions “Payments as low as 1%! and autodialers going non stop.

  3. Ruthmarie Hicks

    October 8, 2008 at 11:07 am

    At the end of the day, I always tried to do the right thing. Sometimes you can’t stop people from doing something foolish. But a few times I turned people away. In one memorable case I simply told a couple that “they were stretching too far.” I know they resented the comment, but I felt I had to say something. The were looking upon the purchase as if it was rent and wanted to put virtually no money down and were seeking fancy loans with negative amortization etc. After trying to get them to trim their needs vs. wants down to an affordable list of “needs” I realized that they were just going to stretch for everything they could get. Credit was still easy, but I let them go because it was a disaster waiting to happen.

  4. Brian Block

    October 8, 2008 at 11:53 am

    Rich, you got me thinking about my transactions in the past few years and I’d have to say that upon reflection, I know that I’m able to sleep well at night. I never twisted anyone’s arm or helped to push anyone into a home that I knew they couldn’t afford. Everyone needs to take a little time for self-reflection.

    While I’m younger than you, I don’t like seeing more and more grays falling to the floor everytime I visit the barbershop.

  5. Missy Caulk

    October 8, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Heck Rich, my husband says I’m asleep 2 sec when I log off the computer, so no problem sleeping here. B U T…………
    We had 2 clients that we felt and told they should not purchase, both went and got their own lenders, our’s could not get either qualified.

    So they found these “internet lenders”.

    One couple is doing well, been in their home for 2 years, One lost the house in foreclosure within the year. That really, really bothers me. Our advice was to wait a year, save some money, get credit score up. Nope they were bound and determined to buy THAT house. Should I have insisted my buyer agent drop them, I don’t know, but it bugs me.

  6. Bob

    October 8, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    I have killed more than a few deals and still killing some now. When I work with a buyer, I tell them I need them to be brutally honest with me. I let them know that I look at every possible deal from the perspective of 3 years out. That means that if they buy and 3 years later call me to sell the house, they won’t hear then what they didn’t hear before they bought the house about why it could be a tough sell.

    That has been modified a bit for this market. I tell them to go out 5 years. Start with the 5-6% + it will cost them to sell. Now assume that we see a conservative 10% drop over the next 2 years. They need to see 15% appreciation somewhere in there just to break even.

    I sleep fine at night. I just don’t sell a lot of buyers right now.

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Economic News

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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Economic News

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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Economic News

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.

“I think it’s too toxic and continues to be too toxic,” Steve LaTourette (the former Republican congressman best known for his close friendship with his fellow Ohioan, Speaker John Boehner) tells The Atlantic. “I see no political will to get this done.”

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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