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Archive for October, 2007

Real Estate Partnerships Under Attack in Congress

For many of us that are involved in professional real estate designations (CCIM, CRB, SIOR, CRS, etc.), we’ve spent countless hours studying, networking and differentiating ourselves from the pack in order to better represent ourselves and our clients. Among the benefits is being alerted to the fact that someone in Washington is making a move that will impact our clients, their businesses and our livelihood without the aid of the WSJ, CNBC or the mainstream media’s focus on its impact to our profession. Below is an alert I received this evening that I wanted to pass along to the BHB:

CCIM INSTITUTE CALL TO ACTION: OPPOSE TAX INCREASE ON COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE

House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) is moving forward with legislation that would make major changes to the tax structure. The bill proposes a massive tax increase for real estate partnerships, raising the tax rate on “carried interest” from 15% to 35%. This legislation would significantly impact commercial real estate projects, most of which are organized in partnerships. Why this legislation is detrimental to real estate practitioners:

  • Drives investors to put their money elsewhere such as stocks with much more favorable tax treatment;
  • Diminishes the value and/or put many partnership out of business because the capital would not be there to facilitate them;
  • Creates a disincentive to investing in real estate since many would no longer earn a reasonable profit;
  • Stifles growth in a part of our economy which has become increasingly important over the last several years due to manufacturing, call centers, and other key industries moving offshore;
  • Punishes partners involved with prior arranged transactions by causing a totally different economic result than all partners agreed with in advance; and,
  • Fails to recognize that real estate investors are involved in their investments daily, while hedge fund managers are not involved daily in their investments.

Contact your U.S. Senators and Representative informing them of your concerns and urge them to oppose the carried interest provision. How to contact your legislators:

  1. Look up your Members of Congress and their contact information;
  2. Introduce yourself in a sentence or two. For instance: “I am a constituent and a commercial broker who…”;
  3. Use the bullets (above) on how higher taxes on carried interests would be detrimental to commercial real estate to argue your point. You are encouraged to add your own examples; and,
  4. If you will be faxing your legislators, print your letter on your company letterhead.

After contacting your legislators, please notify the CCIM Institute Legislative Liaison, Vijay Yadlapati. For more information on the issue read the CCIM Institute Statement of Policy on Carried Interests.

Make your voices heard! Act immediately by contacting your legislators.

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    Real Estate Perfect Storm Warning: Do Not Miss This Window of Opportunity

    One very unique thing about investing is the valuation process.  While there are numerous ways to value an investment, the only true measure is what it can be sold for.  While I can say a piece of property is worth $1 million, if it does not sell at that value it is simply not worth $1 million.

    This is essentially the free market concept.  You can set your own price and your business will succeed or fail based on the number of people who think they are getting value.  Another interesting part of this equation is time.  The more time you have to wait, the more likely you are to find someone who agrees with your valuation.  However, as the saying goes, “the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.”

    This is the crux of a very important issue in investor perception.  Most investors make irrational decisions quite rationally.  If I see a house that seems unreasonably valued, and then I see a similar house that is even more unreasonably value, the first house now seems like a bargain.  This cycle continues until investors either run out of money or some event scares investors back into rationality.

    The problem then over corrects itself.  Investors go the other way, thinking that every house is overvalued, when it may have only been a handful.  This happens until there is an overwhelming amount of value on the table; so much value that even the most naïve investor could make money.  And the cycle begins again, and again, and again.

    Small investors are always the most susceptible to these cycles because they have the least amount of information.  They have no idea where interest rates are heading or where the next hot spot is emerging.  At best they might read the Wall Street Journal or Businessweek.  The problem with this strategy is that by definition news is old.  By the time something is reported, it will already have happened.  Furthermore, by the time your neighbor mentions it to you or by the time you see a special report, the market has most certainly moved on.

    This begs the question, what is the small real estate investor to do?  Simple, make the news.  If you want to win big at real estate investing you have to know your market inside and out.  This means that by the time the Wall Street Journal says Florida Condos are over-valued, yours has been on the market or sold.  By the time Business Week says the new hot market is some where in Idaho, you have already bought five places from Jeff Brown.

    Most of the time this will make you a contrarian investor, which is a risky proposition.  The irrational markets and personal solvency issues come right to the forefront of this issue.  However, if you know your market like you should these calculated risk should pay off more often then not.  Its very rare to buy at the bottom of the market and to sell at the top of the market.  Be happy just getting the cycles right.  Buy and hold is a great strategy, but never look a gift horse in the mouth.  If your market has gone crazy, there is nothing wrong with profit taking or buying like it’s a Blue Light Kmart Special.. 

    If you read me often you know this is nothing new.  I do, however, want to call your attention to the real estate climate we are in right now.  Most pundits are predicting an extended decline in the real estate market.  While now might not be a time to buy, it is certainly a time to start researching where you want to deploy your capital next.  You could call this the calm before the perfect storm.

    Again, don’t shoot for the bottom of the market.  Look for rational places to invest that are currently experiencing irrational price declines.  These could be normally hot markets experiencing flat growth levels (some parts of New York City), markets that have been pummeled back into reality (some parts of Florida), or emerging markets poised for a run (get Jeff Brown talking about Idaho).  Regardless of where or what your strategy is, downturns in the market are a great time to get your ducks in a row.  By the time the Wall Street Journal reports that the real estate market is back on its feet, you should already have made your decisions and closed on your properties.  In real estate the penalty for buying a little too early is offset by the gains you can reap when you make the right call.

    Closing Note to Realtors Out There: You should know your market better than anyone.  If you know its a great time to sell, give your investors a heads up.  If you can make a great case for buying, send your investors a list of homes that seem right.  You would be amazed at how often this produces results.  People tend to have lots of money or lots of time, very rarely do they have both.  If you can provide a quick and sound investment idea, you will be certain of repeat business from busy investors.  I was probably a human cash machine for my Detroit realtor because she knew timing and value.  Its was a great win-win relationship.

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    Really, an Open House.

    First, let me say that I normally DO NOT DO OPEN HOUSES!  I generally think them to be a colossal waste of time for everybody involved. The neighbors come snooping, tire kicking strangers are tromping through a pricey home, and for what? Decorating ideas? Casing the joint? Checking list prices? I anticipate strangled cries of “BLASPHEMY” from the peanut gallery, but really, what are the stats? There have been lots of ideas bantered about concerning the efficacy of the open house, but I like the one that goes like this:

         “Less than 1% of homes are sold at an open house.”

    If I had any real credibility, I suppose that I’d provide a citation for that, but alas, I have none (er. . .citation, that is).

     

     BUTT–I mean “BUT,” and that’s a big “BUT,” sometimes, extra-ordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures, and there is a 1% chance, right?

     

    For example, I have a listing on the market right now in Tramonto that is what I would call “ideally situated” for an open house:  great traffic, premier location, smoking bargain, sits on the highest point of the mountain overlooking the valley, and in this market, every little bit helps. SO, I have determined that I will indeed do an open house, this very weekend. I have been planning it for a few weeks. 

    Now, because I am an “over-the-top” type of person (and I am obsessive compulsive), I decided to go all out.  There are flyers blanketing the area shopping centers, restaurants, and cultural centers. There are postcards, to the tune of about 1000 going out to adjacent areas that may have “move-up buyers.” There are html blasts going out to about 600 people in my buyer and lead database. There are signs, balloons, food, drinks, door-prizes, the works.

    Now, will this work? Perhaps. We’ll see. Maybe my faith in buyers will be restored. Maybe I will be firmly convinced that I should never do THAT again. Who knows.  It does make me look like a good agent, I guess.  If any of you all are in the area, you should stop by and say “hello.” Who knows, you may be able to eat all the food with me!

     

      

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    Search Or Sell, Young Man

    Teach or be Taught

    I entered my freshman year in college (the second time) sporting a 1967 VW Beetle with no radio, a grant-in-aid to play Division III football on the crumbling edge of Pennsylvania coal country, and $200 in my pocket from a half-finished summer house painting job back east. I emerged eight years later with a bachelor’s degree in Theatre, spitting distance close to a master’s degree in English, and a 1972 Riviera that served as both my wheels and my address, off and on, for several months to follow. Oh yeah…and 30 grand in student loans, give or take a few deferments. And a soon to be ex-wife. And a kid.

    My choices, as I recall them now, were quite simple, really;

    I Take a teaching job for $14,000 a year in a Pittsburgh inner-city high school and get buried even further below the rusty Monongahela crust–an option, rather than an actual choice, I suppose…

    II Go back to graduate school (rather, stay in graduate school and be pushing 30 when I got out) adding another 20K to the loan tab–albeit a longshot wager as far as any lender with my correct SS number was concerned…

    III Or run.

    The first two choices were subsequently ruled out leaving me alone in a bar one night pondering Option III… to run or not to run. Run, that is, OR… possibly… pursue what I had ended up doing in the interim while trying to figure out an escape route from those winter stained strip mines of western Pennsylvania… Sales. The default career of all default careers. Knife and pot sales, actually. Door to door throughout the surrounding counties. My first crack at this profession of eating what one kills. And a natural born killer, I was not.

    I’d forage the wedding announcement notices from back issues of the local weeklies then drop in on the family homes of the blushing brides-to-be, a suitcase full of kitchenwares in one hand and ten cent daisies in the other. Knock, knock, knock…“Why, you must be the the future Mrs Thaddeus McLelland Stump {pause} Oh…you are her mother? Dear Lord… I must say…a picture must be growing old in an attic somewhere…” (I’d throw in the O. Wilde reference to keep a mental tug-line on the fastly fading life I’d just abandoned as I slid one foot between me, the screen door and the kitchen table, poised for my next move. The Sit.)

     

    Hmmm, indeed. It all kind of kind of sucked, really. Weeks turned into months turned into years. Decades. A lifetime, nearly.

    I ultimately took the higher ground, cutting off what was left of my hair, shaving my graduate school beard, and trading in the Fryes, corduroy and tweeds for, as you might imagine, the uniform: wing tips, splashy neckwear and two identical blue pin stripe suits (sales people being among the biggest suckers of all, I’d soon discover as I stared into the mirror each morning looking exactly like the day before). I would shortly thereafter abandon the Riviera, old faithful, on a bridge in Pittsburgh during rush hour, buy a new Chevette with no radio on the remaining threads of my credit, and set out to read everything there was written on the Art and/or Science of Salesmanship while simultaneously searching for the most palatable commission based career that didn’t have a suicide clause in fine print buried in it’s mission statement. In other words, I wanted desperately to find a sales job I didn’t loathe, with associates I didn’t want to drown, and a sales manager whose ass I could kick if things were suddenly to go sideways. I needed to make money but I hated the profession. I took a deep mental breath and re-doubled my efforts.

    I read Zig, and Waitely, and Carnegie, and Hill. I read Robbins, the Kinder Brothers, Zeller, and Joe Girard. I bought all the tapes and went to all the seminars. I waited in anticipation during those early years for the ‘SuperSalesMan’ bug to bite me on the rump and inject my spirit, for the magic ‘Closing’ pill I’d washed back with untold quarts of happy hour whiskey to take effect, for the ‘Surefire System to Success’ to unfold like a galaxy before my Moonpie eyes. I was locked, loaded and ready to ‘shoot for the stars’ and ‘settle for the Sun,’ those echoes from the piped-in tapes of the regional sales office pulpit. So I took unsteady aim in the general direction of Alpha Centauri (the closest and biggest celestial target I was told), with shaky hands and only half a heart, waiting for the perfect bead in my crosshair sights before firing off a maelstrom of rapidfire salesman frenzy…..

    And I’ve been waiting 25 years, with sights now blurred and trigger finger on safety, for the true religion to hit me. Not just garden variety Faith, which I already have a freezer full of, but the good stuff like you see on the Discovery Channel, people speaking in tongues and collapsing on stage. I’ve been waiting for the likes of that but not with bated breath, I assure you. It’s more out of curiosity than anything, these days. Still, ‘What would it be like to really, really be driven?’ I often wonder as I wait for the phone to ring and my listings to sell and this market to move in another direction. Trump driven, or Mark Cuban driven, perhaps…

    Sell or be Sold

    I’m sorry but I don’t buy into any of that Tom Hopkins ubiquitous ‘unbelievable’ crap. Not anymore.I know he makes major coin and I write for free but still, I’m all over the sales chatter. I’ve found my own niche in this business of selling homes and if nothing else, it lays at my feet like an old, comfortable pair of shoes, ready to hit the pavement when I’m ready to walk. On the contrary to Mr. Hopkins’ pat answer, it is very believable.  

    I was a real estate consumer before I was a real estate professional. I had sold enough insurance in my previous career and purchased enough residential property as an adult to make the transition into this profession seamless and respectable. As you may have supposed by now, sales is not my first or greatest love nor do I believe it will ever be more than an interesting and challenging way to provide for my family.  It is not the air I breath nor the progenitor for the tears I shed. It is, more than anything, a lifelong companion that I know very, very well.  At times it my cell mate.  At times, my challenger.  In it’s purest form, it is the wellspring I need to access to get the best deal done for my clients.  At the pinnacle, it provides an upscale lifestyle for the wife and myself and an inside track on anything we personally take a run at in the marketplace. 

    Chop off my fingers if they start to wag. I don’t wish to use this platform as a soapbox but rather as a safe haven for my personal and candid observations of the real estate world thatv surrounds me here in Chicago. Sometimes it’s dead serious and I find myself hesitant to mince words.  Often times it’s enlightening and I must pass it on. Usually, it’s just plain funny (to me). ‘Funny how?…I don’t know, funny…you know, just funny…’  I’ve been an advocate for some knuckleheads, for sure. And speaking of Goodfellas…

    I once sold a condo to a semi-mobbed-up guy who couldn’t get a mortgage. I didn’t actually plead for my life per se, but I did make a pretty good case against the banker, also a gentleman of questionable means, redeflecting the flak toward it’s proper recipient during the multiple and constantly expiring contingency extensions of the contract.  The money somehow got wired to the title company on closing day and as I sat alone at the settlement table waiting for everybody else to arrive, I became a little uneasy with anticipation.  No one showed. An hour later the Closer came out from a back office and handed me a commission check. It was quick and it was silent but probably most of all, it was Chicago.

    Run Forrest Run

    As a youngster I was always the fastest kid in my class and in later years, the entire city if high school track records mean anything. I was born with an uncanny instinct to flee. My ancestors that passed on this gene must have surely been weak in other regards, I’ve concluded.

    My first thought, even to this day, is to run. Usually it’s just a momentary flicker quickly snuffed out by reason and responsibilty. I rarely act on my first thoughts anymore. I carry into my middle years a routine and a process.  I believe I’ve stuck around long enough to be credible in what I say and competent in what I do in this business of real estate sales.  That in itself gives me a leg up on the competition here although the Realtor ranks in Chicago are thinning, even as we speak.  I’ve become more of an observer, I think, and less of an outspoken cocktail party maven these days.  The urge to stay and see how it all plays out has well overtaken any trifling idea of sprinting into the night with the escrow account.

    Thus, you have the beginning, and the middle derivations, skeletal as they be, of this man’s real estate point of view. I’ll try here to provide you with a running account of how the future reveals itself to me on a weekly basis and how the third and final unity of this hybrid Aristotilean Cyber-Construction unfolds. And barring any late breaking newsflash! from the present, that unity, of course, would be…The End.
     

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    Writing for money? I’m in real estate. Writing for money is a big part of what I do to earn my living . . .

    “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” – Samuel Johnson

    Kris Berg asked me last night about my experiences writing for money. This was something I was interested in when I was very young, but, again from Johnson, “The expense is damnable, the position is ridiculous, and the pleasure fleeting.” I have an absolutely unbounded loathing for the word “submit,” and this was something I could never eradicate from my mind, every time I licked a hopeful envelope.

    When I am retired, I may consider the matter again, although it seems certain that writing for money is going the way of recording pop music for money: Ever more popular, no money. That doesn’t even matter to me. I’ve given away everything I’ve ever written, and I don’t see myself stopping. It is up to the reader to decide if the product is worth the price — and we are so much mis-schooled that many of us don’t know how to evaluate something that comes to us without a price. But it is very satisfying to me to write and to know that my writing is not being mucked with by some drooling, drunken moron to whom I am expected to “submit.” That satisfaction, the freedom to write whatever I damn well please, has always been compensation enough for me.

    But do not for a moment entertain the idea that I am not writing for money. Yesterday I had what I considered to be an unjustifiably low offer on one of our listings. You can’t blame a guy for trying, but, upon reflection, I decided that the problem was at least partly mine.

    I’ve written quite a bit about writing for real estate, but I realized yesterday that I need to be doing more than rhapsodizing about benefits and lifestyle. I am a good persuasive writer, and some small part of the writing I do for a listing has to be devoted to wrestling with logic and not just gaily dancing with emotion.

    So: I wrote this text and put it on the back of the flyer with the floorplan:

    Defending the price of this home…

    It’s common in this market to expect that homes are offered at inflated prices and that buyers must be prepared to strive to make a dead fall leap to land on the perfect discount price without inadvertently leaving money on the table.

    This home is not priced that way.

    We don’t play games. We don’t do double-talk. We don’t have any secret agendas.

    The homes that we list and sell are priced to the current market. If we have any doubts about our own estimate of the value of a home, we enlist the assistance of Gwen Baker, a seasoned appraiser who has evaluated many hundreds of historic and architecturally-distinctive homes.

    Gwen Baker estimated this home’s value at $330,000, which is why we priced it as we have.

    If you’ll take a moment to examine the comparable listings shown here, you will see that this home is an exemplary bargain when compared with currently-listed homes and with recent sales.

    On top of all that, it sits on the most delightful corner in the F.Q. Story neighborhood — where virtually nothing nearby is for sale.

    We’re completely transparent Realtors. We don’t play games. This home is priced fairly and aggressively. It can be yours in just a few weeks — and you won’t have to worry about second-guessing the price.

    I backed it up with five active comps and five recent sales, all stone-accurate true comparables, all shown on a CMA table. We’re the lowest price, and we’re also the lowest price per square foot. This home was priced aggressively from day one, so — you have to read this between the lines — don’t spoil your chance of getting it by being a dolt.

    That is writing for money — my money and my clients’ money. I’m not writing to amuse you, to fill your empty hours on the bus or at the airport, to thrill you with imaginary worlds or celebrity gossip or gee-whiz business tips you’ll never deploy — the evanescent cotton-candy-feasts of frustrated wish-fulfillment that litter our lives. I’m writing to protect my clients’ investment in their home — and yours, as well, when you buy it from them.

    I have no desire whatever to “submit” my writing to an editor — and if you ever see the words “respected” and “editor” side-by-side, you’ll know that a very fat ass is being kissed. But writing for money? That’s a big part of my job…

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    New Media in Plain English: Who me?

    We blog, we Twitter, we are on Facebook, we podcast, we digg, we stumbleupon… But can we laugh at ourselves?

    If not, don’t go. And if you do go, don’t bring the kids.

    It’s the New Media (Dirt)bags in Plain English.

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    Picking up the pace: Introducing Geno Petro

    Today we’re adding another writer to our line-up, but we’re also revealing the secret subterranean agenda of The Odysseus Medal competition.

    Every time I turn around, there is someone accusing me of underhanded methods. I was seeking to get rich at $6.17 a month as an Amazon Affiliate. The Odysseus Medal is alleged to be a link-baiting scheme. And — the worst of my crimes — I hogged all the good grades in school!

    I live in a simple world. I figure things are pretty much what they seem to be. Certainly I am, as is anything I build. I don’t do double-talk. I don’t get it, and I don’t care to take the time to puzzle it out.

    So what is the real, super-secret, ultra-nefarious objective of The Odysseus Medal?

    To unearth and celebrate talent. Period. My secondary hope is that I might recruit talented writers whose work I haven’t seen before to come write with us. But I want to improve my own mind — as I assume you do, too — and a good way for us to achieve that objective is to tell each other about great writing and great ideas we find as we leap across these nets.

    Ooh… Crafty…

    Today’s introduction is a treat for me. I had never read him before Sunday morning. He was nominated for The Odysseus Medal, and I knew about a third of the way through his post that he had won it. By the time I had finished reading, I knew I wanted to recruit him for BloodhoundBlog.

    Enough. The man:

    Geno Petro is the voice of Chicago on the RE.net. A top-producing listing agent, he has done leasing and has worked in his own behalf as an investor. On top of all that, he is a stunningly original writer.

    Geno Petro is an incomparable writer. Like Kris Berg, he takes you right into his world, and, while you are there, you cannot even imagine any other, so completely is it realized.

    I love what we do here, but one of the things I love best is that it makes all of us stronger. We all have to run hard to keep up with this pack. That’s a good thing, good for our readers but even better for us. And today we’re picking up the pace.

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    Telling Secrets

    secret.jpg 

    Censorship has been on my mind. Not the definitive, prescribed and documented “heavy hand of authority” variety, and not the ”thou shalt not be mean to NAR” Memorandum of Paranoia allegedly being unveiled in November, but the worst and most pervasive kind.

    What I find more concerning and most stifling is the triple-secret censorship. Unless you are a Broker Owner, with no one to answer to but your own inner voice of reason, you are being judged by what you write. Every word I click onto the page is subject to scrutiny, and I must choose each oh-so carefully while perched atop my podium of egg shells. Sometimes I fail and trash the whole dozen. Independent contractor? Not entirely independent, I’m afraid.

    Many topics are safe. Statistics and trend analyses are the poster children of the benign blog entry. Pictures of pretty buildings, diatribes on transactional intricacies, and advice on “how to pick an agent” are all fair game. It’s black or it’s white, and no one can make a compelling argument to the contrary. Fielding questions on contracts leads us closer to the mine field, but if we preface each thought that hits the page with “I am not an attorney,” we mitigate the risk of having to rephrase our post for His Honor.

    We can talk about technology. It either is or it isn’t, and my broker is probably not going to hunt me down like a dog for taking a bold stand challenging the site design of Terabitz, nor will he give much thought to my in-depth expose on the accuracy of the Zestimate. While I am cautiously treading water with my choice of topics, however, I am risking either offending the reader with the triviality of my content or boring him senseless.

    This blog scares me, because I think it scares my broker. The tone is sometimes caustic, mostly serious, and always challenging of the status quo. I enjoy satire, and I like to laugh. Many things make me laugh, and so many of those are related to common, every day life, the life unrelated to the job. I weave those stories into my writing, too often I suppose, but you can only get away with so many “You won’t believe what my daughter stuffed up her nose today” stories on a business blog.

    If one wishes to find humor in a business, there is none better than our business of real estate. Yet, I can’t tell the stories I want to tell. If I reveal the dumb agent tricks I am forced to witness daily, I offend. That’s not the image we want to portray. If I write about the hilarity that is the typical real estate office, I offend. I may tarnish a brand. Speaking negatively about a consumer experience is the ultimate offense. They may not want to work with me, not to mention that I may tarnish a brand.

    I understand these triple-secret and unspoken rules, and I have had the pleasure of actually hearing them spoken. If I was in my broker’s britches (figuratively speaking), I would be telling the same secrets. But, this speaks to the conundrum that befalls the blogger over time. I would submit that anyone who has shown consistency and commitment to blogging, who has a measure of longevity communicating in this manner, has made a personal discovery along the way. They have discovered that they enjoy writing, maybe as much or more than they enjoy their real work. To be completely committed to one, however, you must show infidelity to the other. And, using the Ben Franklin approach, I have concluded that I still have bills to pay. Advantage broker.

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    The Look of Success

    This was sent to me today. When I see something this important I want to share it with the world.

    Anna Bananna Realty

    You can see the original article on AZCentral. This is a Realtor named Anna Kruchten who has a company named Anna Banana Realty.

    This has already given me an idea that is going to make a huge difference in how people see me.

    russsell bananna

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    Twittering on a wing and a prayer

    I Twitter. Therefore I am? Twitter appeals to me, although I’m wondering if that makes me a Twit. It seems so Web 2.0 lite. Blogging has weight. Facebook, LinkedIn, they have some business attire to them. Twitter is just casual Friday, isn’t it?

    I’m not an expert Twit. I still need to learn all the little nuances like the tinyurl and how to reference another Twitter account, but I’m not caring about that at the moment. Right now I am simply trying to remember to Twitter and in order to be an interesting Twit you have to leave it open and just Twitter away. I Twitter on about the minutiae of life and work, but I also post my blog urls. That’s where the tinyurl comes in handy, since each Twit is limited to 140 characters. This being Bloodhound, I’ll anticipate your question- does it bring you leads? Goggle has picked up my Twittering for a keyword of some sort and pointed someone to my home blog, so, in other words, no leads. What’s the point, I hear you asking.

    There’s this movie that I adore, “Wings of Desire“. If you are not familiar with it, two angels hover among Berliners. We watch the angels watch the humans, and the angels can hear human thoughts, so we get to hear what other people are thinking. One angel decides he no longer wants to watch, he wants to participate in life- as he says “At last to guess, instead of always knowing. To be able to say “ah” and “oh” and “hey” instead of “yea” and “amen.” This is one of those movies that people seem to love or hate- it’s not for everyone. My husband, Jamie, for example, can’t stand it. To him it ranks high on the list of most boring movies he’s ever seen, and my guess is that to him, Twitter would be the same.

    You have the opportunity “follow” the twits of other people, and that’s where Twitter gets interesting, or really boring depending on your point of view. Twitter asks “What are you doing?” but it could ask “What are you thinking?” It’s like being an angel and listening in on the thoughts of others. I’m following some people I “know” and some people I randomly found, and lots of news sources. There are a few other Realtors thrown in there, I’m watching them because I’m curious how other real estate agents are using Twitter. No leads, no one in my town Twits, at least no one I know of. My kids don’t Twit, what’s the point? I think you have be genuinely interested in other people to get the most out of Twitter. You have really want to engage in sharing the tiny details of what makes you you, and you must be curious about what makes someone else, someone else, otherwise, it’s just a lot of babble. Well, yes it already is a lot of babble, but if you don’t give a damn about anyone else’s babble, then it’s just pointless.

    What Twitter really does for me is makes me want to find out more about people, and really engage with people, like the anegl in Wings of Desire. By following other Twitterers, I’m quickly introduced to still more Twitterers. And what are these people doing? Well, I just found out that Google is launching a social networking platform. Both TechCrunch and the New York Times reported it at the same time, and they both showed up on my Twitter page with links to the articles you see. But this is quite amazing: Just now, as I right this, I’m checking my Twitter and this is from San Francisco Realtor Andy Kaufman: “earthquake nice shaker in the mission/noe”. An earthquake! A check here confirms that Andy was Twittering in real time about an earthquake. Think about that. I hope all is well.

    Now, just this very moment, with that one fragment of a thought, the connectedness of Twitter is clear to me. I should have been checking Twitter during the San Diego fires. That type of immediate connectedness and engagement is powerful in a way that email, Facebook, or blogging isn’t. Social networking between thousands of people in real time- that is the beauty of Web 2.0, and that’s why I’m fascinated with Twitter.

    Besides, Jesus is Twittering, also.

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  • 15 comments

    Zillow.com upgrades its advertising arsenal, allowing you to target-market the Joneses you want to keep up with

    I’ve been saying this for a long time: Buyers are temporarily interested in listings. Owners are always interested in their homes. Zillow.com wants buyers, hence the move to accept listings feeds. But what they really want are owners, people who will come back to the site again and again, potentially to be sold new stuff every time they come back.

    Remember 13 months ago when Zillow opened up and let sellers create Do-It-Yourself Zestimates, detailing all the unZestimated changes they had made to the home?

    Today all that data gets put to use. Zillow has a brand new advertising program called Home Direct Ads that will use every bit of the data it has collected to target market ads to particular buyers, to vendors like movers or remodeling contractors — even to visitors to specific homes in the Zillow database.

    From the company’s press release:

    Leading real estate Web site Zillow.com today announced the launch of Zillow® Home Direct Ads, a new set of patent-pending tools that enables advertisers to identify and connect online with homeowners who are on the verge of making major home-related purchases such as moving or updating the home they currently own.

    The sophisticated toolset capitalizes on Zillow’s most compelling asset: data-rich, individual Web pages for more than 70 million U.S. homes that attract regular visits by the homeowners themselves. Zillow Home Direct Ads helps advertisers target ads to these homeowners by individual address, by value of their home, by psychographic cluster such as urban families with children, or even by whether they are planning to move. This type of intent and address-specific targeting has never before been available for advertisers online.

    “What we’re offering advertisers is pin point accuracy on the purchasing intentions of homeowners, including the ability to forecast that they are highly likely to move or remodel well before they start the process,” said Greg Schwartz, Zillow vice president of ad sales. “Our advertisers can target ads down to the specific address or home value, or learn other facts about the neighborhood and locality that will allow them to tailor ads directly to this audience. As a result, advertisers are more successful, and the ads that Zillow users see on the site are immensely more meaningful and interesting to them.”

    Here’s the interesting news: This can’t be all the news. A week or two ago David Gibbons promised us a new software release. We had a dribble about feeds last week, so that might be in the offing at last. Todd Carpenter is writing today about the long-promised new feature for lenders. It could be we’re on the verge of quite a few Zillow announcements.

    The news, in my opinion, is always this: By building its data around the property and not an ephemeral listing-for-sale, Zillow is creating a thousand-points-of-stickiness. Wanna see listings? You’ll have a lot of choices, including Zillow.com. Want to find out where your irrational desire for stainless steel countertops won’t be an over-improvement for the neighborhood? You have one place to go — so why not go there for everything?

    Who else is even thinking this deeply?

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  • 4 comments

    Sell Your Home? Get You a Loan? Do Your Taxes?

    I have no idea if published Letters to the Editor are covered by copyright protection – if they are I will need to stop doing this. If someone were to suggest that there was a pattern to the types of letters Inman News chooses to publish (say, for example, that I’ve made assertions like that in the past) a person wouldn’t have to wait very long to find examples of that pattern. This one is from today:Mars Attacks

    Higher commissions are ‘anti-consumer’

    Dear Editor:

    Are semantics clouding the real issue? When you have thousands of real estate agents competing for a limited amount of business this is construed as competitive, just as Realogy and RE/MAX suggest. However, this does not equate to competitive real estate models, which should — but do not — benefit consumers.

    In this agent’s opinion, the issue is not whether there is competition between agents to obtain business — it is the competition as it relates to commissions that have these companies on edge. This should be considered “anti-consumer,” not necessarily an anti-competitive issue, which is simply a case of semantics.

    These companies readily admit and demonstrate that they will do and say almost anything to thwart competition with regard to commission dollars.

    How many times do they have to say that they are worried about the pressures of lower commissions? It is well documented and stated by these companies that they spend inordinate amounts of money to attract business, thereby placing them in a position where they cannot compete with other models that use pricing (commissions) to compete with the “anti-consumer” real estate models that hire thousands of agents and spend millions of dollars to obtain market dominance.

    Ironically, these “anti-consumer” companies are honest about the reasons they continue to frustrate a decline in commission rates. They cannot “compete” within these confines. This is about commissions, not competition to attract business.

    What the public should consider is whether they want to do business with companies that knowingly take advantage of their mere size as opposed to finding ways to lower the costs and becoming more efficient when it comes to actually selling homes. Besides higher commission prices, these companies are also inclined to add “junk” fees such as storage fees (for the file), transactions fees (which is why the agent is being paid in the first place), and other assorted fees and costs.

    It is my opinion that this compromises the integrity of these companies.

    It is also partially the responsibility of the media, which continues to use the word discount when relating to lower-commission models. This is the wrong message, as discount applies only to commissions. If there are no set commissions, why are lower commissions described and considered discount? As a lower-fee broker, I take exception to this because I offer the same, if not better, service than those charging higher commissions. Nothing is discounted; it is merely what I elect to charge.

    The DOJ should be spending money to attack the dishonesty of these high-commissioned firms and inform the consumers that lower fees do work and probably work better than higher fees for many reasons.

    Even NAR has said in the past that real estate commissions will not decrease as long as consumers continue to pay higher commissions.

    Jeff Fox
    mail@jefffox.com

    Yes, the dishonesty must be stopped. How dare big companies charge more (and openly admit it too). Jeff Fox does it for less. Go to www.jefffox.com. Go there now and see that site. It took me a while to even find his Realtor site. I believe it is this one: www.jeffandcherylfox.com. If this is not correct, I apologize. If I am correct (at the very bottom of the page it has the realty tech copyright and he charges 1.25% commission) so I think this is the same person.

    He is a lower fee broker and wants the DOJ to spend money attacking high commission firms and wants them to inform consumers that lower commissions work and probably work better than higher fees for many reasons. Good news, Jeff. Just check this out. The DOJ got your thoughts in advance (via telepathy?) and put that site up just for you. The attacks have already started.

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    For some reason, the Redfin Consumer Bill of Rights is ‘news,’ but will the news extend to exploring real reform in real estate?

    Take a look at this map:

    That’s the route from my home, in North Central Phoenix, to Johnson’s Ranch, a master-planned community in Queen Creek, AZ. The distance is 55 miles by the odometer, but travel time is more like two hours. It’s a brutal, awful trip, over two-lane roads for the last third of the ride, interrupted once a mile by four-way stop signs. In traffic, each one of those four-way stops could account for ten minutes of your travel time. An accident or an over-heated car could drive your trip time up to three hours or more.

    What can we say with absolute certainty about Queen Creek?

    How about this? It isn’t in Phoenix.

    Johnson’s Ranch isn’t even in the same county as Phoenix.

    So why, when the New York Times wanted to slime the Phoenix real estate market — why would it do so from Queen Creek?

    How about because the real estate market in Queen Creek is astoundingly bad, and — unless you live here — you won’t know you’re being had.

    Don’t confuse yourself. Skyharbor Airport is eleven minutes from my house, right in the heart of town. No one could fly into Phoenix, then drive through mile after mile of cattle-scrubbed desert to Queen Creek, and manage to confuse the two. The purpose of the article was deception, the same kind of slimy deception “professional” journalism has been able to pull off forever — until now.

    Want proof? The Associated Press pulled the same stunt earlier this month.

    I’m not being a pollyanna. The real estate market is rough right now in Phoenix. But it is a whole lot better than it is in Pinal county. Conflating the two is not an error of knowledge, it is a deliberate falsehood — just exactly as false as talking about single-family homes in New York selling for $350,000 — which I would imagine you could obtain 55 miles southwest of Times Square.

    In any case, I’m not talking about these particular lies but about the pattern of lying, about the pre-canned story lines mainstream journalists try to foist off as “news” — until very lately with no fear of oversight.

    This comes up because Glenn Kelman was kind enough to let me know that a reporter from a mainstream financial magazine had been in touch with him about Redfin’s Consumer Bill of Rights. Kelman had told the reporter about me, I don’t know to what extent. This was my reply to his email:

    That should be fun. Did you finger the URL of the post I wrote on the subject? My take — and you’ll forgive me for saying this — is that reporters come to y’all pre-cooked. I have two possible outcomes: Portrayed as an idiot like the sweet kid who keeps spanking you in Seattle, the one who got Stahled. Or: Totally ignored for violating the pre-canned angle of the “news.” Either way, you win. I would love to be proved wrong about this. Until the commissions are split, there will be no such thing as transparently ethical buyer representation.

    Anyway, thanks for the heads-up.

    I think it was big of Glenn to tell me this was out there, and — recall — he had tipped me and several other real estate webloggers about the existence of the Redfin Consumer Bill of Rights before it had been made public.

    By my count, there are so far fewer than 200 signatories to the Redfin Consumer Bill of Rights, so I can’t imagine why anyone would regard this as news as all. Perhaps, on the Stahl model, the reporter plans to use it as a “gotcha!” on Pat Combs, President of the National Association of Realtors, at the NAR Convention.

    But: My essay is the most comprehensive word in opposition on this subject. I’ve only written one post about the Redfin Consumer Bill of Rights because one was all that was necessary. That one post is richly linked to dozens of other arguments, all of them devoted to true reform in the residential real estate industry. This is not hyperbole: There are 57 links in that post. Because so much of my argument turns on divorcing the buyer’s agent’s commission from the listing agent’s commission, I append links to every major post on the subject, pro and con, published on BloodhoundBlog and elsewhere.

    That post is hard to miss. For redfin consumer bill of rights, it comes up fourth in Google. Make consumer’s possessive and it’s fifth. Search on redfin.com and it’s fourth. No one who lives in our world and has a curiosity about the Redfin Consumer Bill of Rights could manage to miss that post. Reporters persist in searching in the Lexis/Nexis database, missing about 96% of what’s going on in the world, so there’s no telling if the reporter will actually read Redfin.com’s Real Estate Consumer’s Bill of Rights: A wolf in sheepskin clothing…

    But this is the point: If the reporter is honest and serious and duly diligent, we are no longer talking about the Redfin Consumer Bill of Rights, which is simply an attempt to turn our current state of de facto corruption to Redfin.com’s financial advantage. Instead, we are talking about divorcing the commissions. This is not the only reform needed in our business, but it is the one most urgently needed and the one that will make the most dramatic difference in restoring our status as reputable, ethical professionals. Even from behind the Rust Curtain, Inman seems to be noticing the issue, although they can’t seem to identify who, precisely, is talking about it. If a major financial magazine were to examine the issue of divorced commissions in detail, that would really be something.

    And if the reporter is dishonest or childish or simply stoopid? Another rah-rah-Redfin puff piece, with me being portrayed as a crank, as an idiot — or being left out of the article altogether.

    But nothing is ever quite as extreme as we might imagine. If we split the difference, we could easily end up with a totally pomo pragmatist, crafty and glib, interested in nothing so much as clawing up the Ziggurat. If that’s the case, this is the perfect “gotcha!” question for Pat Combs: “Ms. Combs, I must confess that it’s hard for me to get my mind around the idea that buyer’s agents work for the buyer when they are paid by the seller, but I wonder if you could clarify something for me: Which interest of the buyer’s is the seller inducing the buyer’s agent to defend when the seller offers a so-called ‘buyer’s agent’s bonus’?” Do that with the TV cameras running and watch the poor woman stutter, sputter and writhe.

    That would be fun to watch, but don’t hold your breath waiting to see it. I don’t expect to hear from the reporter at all. Doing research is real work, and, before you know it, it fouls up all your pre-conceptions. As with the Associated Press following the New York Times to Queen Creek, I expect our reporter will follow Leslie Stahl to a foregone conclusion. I would love to be proved wrong, but I’m not holding my breath.

     
    Addendum: I was going to post this in the morning, but it turns out it’s timely news. The reporter called Jonathan Dalton about his two posts on the Redfin Consumer Bill of Rights, so it could be that it’s Jonathan who is being set up to be Stahled instead of me. One thing we know for certain: Phoenix — which does not include Queen Creek — is the epicenter of real estate weblogging!

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  • 6 comments

    My Hybrid is a Gas Guzzler

    hybrid.jpg

    The business of real estate sales is a business unlike any other. The Real Estate Hybrid is neither energy nor cost efficient. Ours does not fit neatly under the Service Provider heading nor do we have a product to sell in the traditional sense. What we do have, however, is the goal universal to all commercial business ventures – profitability.

    Why, then, is it so fashionable these days to portray the real estate agent as overpaid, and the profession in the broadest terms as engorged with greed? Several factors contribute: The consumer’s lack of understanding or their misconceptions of our business model, our inability to effectively communicate and demonstrate our value, and our tendency to carry on a public charade suggesting that our job is one big public service announcement. The latter, of course, is compensation for the former, with the real answer lying somewhere in the middle.

    When did profit become a dirty word?

    Just Take a Little Off the Top

    A business consulting firm, Virtual Advisor Interactive, wrote this about the pure consulting or service-oriented business:

    You may tend to think that pricing is not as complicated as product pricing, since what you are offering is less tangible, but appearances can be deceiving… Say you are a hair stylist, for example. Your raw costs will probably include the following: rent and utilities, equipment (including chairs, hair dryers, combs and brushes, sinks, mirrors, towels, washers and dryers, etc.), products (assorted shampoos, conditioners, hair spray and hair color), insurance, and staff salaries and benefits. Also, what about insurance, should a customer slip and fall? So while your service may be hair styling, you must carefully examine everything you will need… to perform that service. You must carefully and continuously list every expense. Once you have determined your raw costs, you can then set up an effective pricing model and figure how much you will need to charge for your service or time in order to break even and/or make a profit.

    So, we aren’t hair stylists, but a very large component of our business is delivering service. I won’t offend the reader by listing the costs associated with fueling our business; if you are an agent, you already know, and if you are a consumer, you have a pretty good idea if you are honest with yourself.

    One fundamental difference, if you compare Real Estate Sales to the traditional service business, is that we provide the service with no guarantee of compensation. In business speak, this is called a “loss.” And the magnitude of the losses associated with our work is never greater than in a slow market such as the one we find ourselves in today. Once your hair has been cut, I doubt you will feel at liberty to say, “I’ve changed my mind. I kind of liked it the old way, so I won’t be paying you for your time or services.” Yet, buyers and sellers do this all of the time, and we allow it through “right to cancel” clauses, through buyer representation on a handshake, and through fear of enforcement when payment is contractual, because we know our reputation and tomorrow’s business depends on it.

    We only get paid once the County Recorder sings. And, this is where the “product” part comes into play.

    The Return Policy

    Most reputable companies with a product to sell have adopted liberal return policies. If the package is unopened, bring it back – No harm, no foul. After all, they can return it to the shelf and resell it.

    This practice does not translate well to real estate sales, but we have willingly adopted the same practice. You see, when you return your listing to me, it has been opened and at great cost to my “company.” For instance, I now have a client who has suddenly decided that renting is a better option than selling. Fair enough, except this was a triple-secret Plan B that I wasn’t privy to when I spent $950 on a stager and staging materials, over $1000 on property brochures and a direct mail campaign, and close to $700 to date on open house advertisements. (I know open houses and open house ads don’t work, but she wanted them.) Almost $3000 later, she wants and will receive a full refund.

    So, when the customer decides to return the listing, his brochures, his staging, and his ads are of no use to me. It is fuel that has been spent. Spend less or insist up front that cancellation will require repayment of out-of-pocket costs, you may say? Well, in my business, it just doesn’t work that way.

    Return Policy of Chain to Chain Competition was the title of a paper presented at a 2007 International Conference on Service Systems and Service Management. When I came across the abstract, I found some relevance in the central theme.

    As the intensity of competition increases, the win-win range becomes more robust… In general, returns policies intensify the competition among retailers, however, within some range of demand uncertainty, returns policies mitigate the competition among manufacturers and otherwise, intensify the competition among manufacturers which leads to a decrease in wholesale price.

    Granted, the preceding wasn’t a light, easy read, but the message relates to our field. Our field has become so overpopulated and so competitive, that it has lead to a decrease in wholesale price. In other words, you are getting more for my money. As a consumer, next time you whine that percentage fees haven’t changed as home prices have increased, consider that my “cost of goods and services” has increased dramatically due to the intensity of competition (and, yes, the cost of business fuel). You don’t see it, but I see it, and I feel it (painfully) in the bottom line.

    The Restocking Fee

    Those same reputable companies that have the liberal return policies also have restocking fees. They do this because returns of opened or otherwise damaged merchandise affect their bottom lines – unless they are able to recover the loss in order to keep costs and, therefore, prices down.

    In an article on The PC Guide, they said this:

    Restocking fees are a statement by the company that they feel the person who decides to return a non-defective item should pay for these costs. And I personally think this is perfectly fair, as long as restocking fees are only charged in cases where I return an item due to my making a bad buying decision. I don’t expect anyone else to pay for my mistakes.

    Yet in real estate, we pay for the decisions of others every single day.

    Your Mileage May Vary

    This is not something that any consumer wants to hear, but you pay for the mistakes, for the changes of heart, and for the poor decisions of others. You pay the bill at the grocery store, where “shrinkage” losses are factored into the prices of perishables. You pay it at the drug store, where the price of your mascara includes a premium to account for theft loss, and you pay it at Nordstom to compensate for their generous return policies. Why would anyone think my business should be different?

    For every three-grand “I didn’t mean it”, I have to make $3001 to turn a profit (forgetting time and non-property specific costs of doing business). A couple of those “oopsies”, and my next transaction is only a break-even event (at least, in Southern California). Were it not for the losses, lower fees would pencil out. In a sense, we all pay.

    Back to the “public service announcement” I spoke of at the beginning. Please do not conclude that money is our only objective in this business of real estate. It is not, although it is our primary objective, as it is yours when you go to your job each day. You, on the other hand, enjoy company benefits like paid health coverage, paid vacation, and sponsored retirement accounts. I enjoy none of those things, yet I immensely enjoy the satisfaction of the very personal and meaningful work I do. And, first and foremost, I do it for a living, for profit. There is no shame in that.

    Time for a Trade-In?

    Does the reality beg for a different business model? I don’t think so, but many will argue otherwise. My intent here is not to change it or fix it, but to call it what it is - a hybrid. It is a business, and some days a real estate business can be a big, cumbersome, costly machine to run.

    (Footnote: Quite obviously, all three Bloodhound Carnival winners inspired this post. For those of you who made it to the end of this, and I mean both of you, if you feel compelled to shoot them on sight, don’t. It’s not their fault.)

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    Don’t feel badly, traditional brokers- even FRENCH people hate Stahl

    Nicolas Sarkosy ditches The StahlFor those of you not up to speed, the 10 second version of why we can’t stand Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes dates back a few months to a grossly slanted piece that amounted to Stahl’s stacking the story to “prove” that traditional real estate brokerages are stupid swindlers even if they discount and turned the article into a free PR piece for Redfin (the west coast based ”revolutionary” rebate real estate firm).

    Then, take it back a few more years to the “Axis of Weasel” comprised of the French government officials… ringing a bell?  Freedom fries, anyone?  That said, French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed hesitantly to an interview with Stahl and after only minutes of the “stupid interview” (his words, not mine), he cut the interview off by removing his earpiece and half-assedly shaking her hand goodbye.

    So, for all of you traditional brokers (or discounters who had thunder stolen by Stahl’s Redfin ad), don’t feel badly- even FRENCH people can’t stomach Stahl.  I’m seriously feeling pro-France… imagine that!

    ———
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