One Year Later

On anniversaries of great events and tragic ones, it is always interesting to think back and remember what was happening.  365 days ago, I was at church when I saw one of our members, an executive in the Orlando United Way, leave in a hurry to attend to pressing matters because something was happening near downtown that would shake the very foundations of who we are.

It was only later that morning as the news reports started rolling in that “several people” and then more than a dozen…and finally 49 of our fellow residents were gunned down in cold blood at the Pulse nightclub, more than 50 wounded, some severely enough to require long term hospitalization.  Yes, the worst mass murder in our nation’s history right here in sunny Orlando, home of Mickey Mouse,  Fantasyland, dancing dolphins, and Harry Potter.

Today, our church, Epiphany Lutheran, joined with churches all over the world in tolling our bells 49 times in recognition of all those who perished.  The outpouring of love from the community told the world a lot about who we are as a community.  We pulled together in the face of hatred and tragedy and printed shirts with a simple message of love:  #OrlandoStrong.  There were tributes, memorials, people lined up to donate blood to the wounded who would need it.  The killing had multiple layers of hatred…prompted by hatred of LGBT residents, many of whom had gathered at Pulse to dance, listen to music and forget some of the taunts, bullying, and ostracism over the years.  Just to enjoy for a moment in time…only to be gunned down in a hail of hatred.  The fact that the gunman was earlier to have pledged his allegiance to followers of radical Islam made the crime even worse, because it was hard to separate the contempt of all Americans from the contempt of LGBT Americans and Hispanics, many of whom gathered for Latin night at the club.  “Layered hatred” is what I call it.

Yet over the past year, our community has labored to restore love and reject hatred. Our church, for 25 years a bastion of largely conservative Lutheran theology, has taken up and passed a message of being Reconciled in Christ.  That means ALL are welcome who believe in Christ.  Whether white, Latino, black, lesbian, gay, transgender, Asian, wealthy or poor, baby Christian or long time follower.  ALL who believe in forgiveness, and the redeeming power of Christ to blunt all hatred, light the candle of  God’s love for us all.  We are all His children, and no matter your background, color or political inclination, you are welcome to worship with us, and be treated with the same kind of love and concern and comfort that you deserve as such a child.  RIC churches are not that common, but I am pleased to be part of such a congregation.

Today, I also attended a wonderful ceremony at Seminole State College celebrating the life of young Luis Vielma, a student who died at Pulse last year.  “Not forgotten,” was the message.  For lives of promise and vigor and love to be cut short by an angry madman is becoming all too common in our society.  But to be remembered is all any of us can do.  And when memorial flowers fade, candles burn out, and memories themselves fade, we must remind ourselves of what needs to be done to overcome hate and transform our lives.

Today, I also spoke with a woman entering our profession, and when I mentioned I was headed to the memorial, she said she had a friend who was injured at Pulse, remembering the moment the gunman shot multiple times into the woman he killed immediately at his side, and survived a gunshot wound to the leg that temporarily paralyzed him.  Imagine the trauma of that moment.

The same God of all creation worshipped since the beginning of time teaches that love overcomes hatred…that peace is to be sought even in the midst of war…and that seeking to understand is much more important than being understood.  So, as we wrap up one year following Pulse, my advice to all is this:  Orlando is a great home, a largely peaceful place to raise a family, to work, play, and go to school.  We have things to work on, and one of them is to accept our neighbors, especially the ones who do not look like us, talk like us, or think like us…with a spirit of love and seeking to understand free of condemnation and judgment.  Seek to understand, my friends.  Seek to accept.  Seek to love.  You will sometimes be disappointed, as the folks who lost their lives in the Pulse tragedy were.  But through seeking to accept, understand and love comes great power, wisdom and truth.   The truth will indeed make you free.


Hilarious–Have you ever had this happen?

Customer service in America is at such a low level now that many companies do not even know who their customers are!  I was called today by a “quality assurance expert” at a company I already use.  His question–why did I leave them about a year ago?”

But the truth is…I SIGNED UP  a year ago and have been with them ever since.  So when I told him that, there was a pause, then…”ah, er, well, thank you for your patronage…we appreciate it!”

Apparently they appreciate it well enough to have quality control call to find out why I am no longer with them.  Kind of like when you are put on hold and after a few seconds of music, the controlled voice comes on to say “Thank you for calling (name of business).  We appreciate your business, and will be with you shortly.”  Hey, company at large…usually very large…if you cared enough to serve me, you would hire someone to answer my calls during regular business hours instead of putting me on hold for 1-3 minutes!!!!!

Does anyone else feel like this?  If so, please indicate below.  As I am ALWAYS glad to hear your comments and feedback.


How’s the Real Estate Market in Orlando?

The month of November provided some interesting trends.  The most telling is that the active market shrunk to 9270 homes.  That is a small city.  But with 2.2 million people living in Metro Orlando, that is the smallest number of homes for sale since September 2013.  Curiously, there were 2444 closings that month, and 2481 last month, and 68 average days on market then vs. 66 days now.  Almost exactly the same market today as the market was in Sept. 2013.

What does this mean?  First, it means that there is currently a 3.4 month supply of available housing.  That might seem like quite a bit, but 6 months is considered a normal, balanced inventory, and 3.4 is a strong seller market.

Home prices have gone up 7% over last year at this time, and that is a healthy increase.  But the eyeball test would tell you that there are way more buyers out there than motivated sellers.  Well priced homes are moving very fast, but we are seeing more and more staying on the market for a long time. The reasons are plenty, but the #1 reason is pure seller greed.  Think about it, if prices have risen 30-40% in the past 4 years, and a seller wants to get more than anyone has ever paid for a house in a particularly subdivision, if you do not price the way they want, they might just move on to another agent who will price it the way they want.

Doesn’t make it right, and it makes it very frustrating to be that honest soul trying to guide someone to the correct pricing strategy when you “lose the listing” and you do not have someone else begging for you to list their home at the right price.

This causes overall pricing to go up, even when it cannot be justified.  I went on a listing appointment last night in a neighborhood where the average actives were asking $210.77/square foot; the pendings were listed at $167.94/square foot; and the solds were actually selling for $156.38/square foot.  That means if the house there is 1500 square feet, the homes are being listed at $316,155 and selling for $234,570.  Quite a discrepancy, right?

So, as a 5 star agent…and as a client willing to do the right thing to sell…what do you do to price and sell?

It means that sometimes we have to try it to see what is going to happen, because I have rarely felt so stymied in putting a realistic price tag on anything.  You can even suggest an appraisal, but what happens if you get an optimistic appraiser or the seller does not take that appraiser’s advice. Still stuck in place during what everyone is calling a rapidly appreciating market.

So an attitude of we will try it and see what happens has overtaken the market…and with good reason.  Because the above scenario is not unusual, and it will not change until market correction happens.  With more people wanting to purchase homes and fewer people selling, the market should get even hotter.  So prepare for the occasional scalding as the market moves even faster than what we consider normal or prudent.

Happy selling, and if I can assist you in any way, I am never too busy for any of your referrals!

A Tribute to our Veterans

Today we commemorate Veterans Day in America.  To all those who currently serve, and have served in the past, I salute you.  No one can ever understand the dedication of putting yourself in life and death situations to benefit people you have never met unless you have served. So it is with great thanks and humility that we pay tribute to people like my Dad, Dr. Neal Balanoff, World War II veteran; and my father in law, Robert Park, Korean War veteran, for their service.  We live in a free country because of the work of those men and millions of other men and women who put aside peaceful lives at home and travelled to faraway places to defend us against the threat of Nazis, fascists, and now terrorists.  Thanks from the bottom of my heart.

That being said, a political thought from this radical moderate.  Of all the things our President-Elect said during the course of the campaign, two concerned me greatly:

  1. Demeaning prisoners of war like John McCain, who in an interview asked “Do you consider him an American hero?”  Donald Trump answered “I prefer those who did not get captured.”  As if John McCain somehow lost his integrity and was not worth much as a captured soldier.  Stories from Vietnam indicated he was even given a chance to be part of a prisoner trade, but he stayed put in horrible conditions with his men rather than be given special treatment.  To me, whether or not you wanted him to be President, or whether you agree with his policies,  he qualifies as an American hero.
  2. In a campaign stop, Mr. Trump said “I know more about ISIS than all the generals do, believe me.”  Well, Mr. President Elect, I do NOT believe you know as much as all the other generals, and frankly, I believe when you actually talk with foot soldiers, and troops in the trenches, as I hope you will before and during your presidency…you will find they know a LOT more about our enemies and our strategy and have better solutions than you have. We can only hope that most of what was said during the campaign was so much bluster to rile all of us from our national slumber about what has gone wrong in America.  But calling out people as ignorant when they are our major hope in times of crisis…let’s just say that is not the best path to success for the military, or anything else that plagues us as a nation.                                                    A little more thankfulness and humility is needed, especially when we think about all the sacrifices of all those brave men and women in harm’s way all over the globe.  As in the recently running advertisement for the US Navy…”to get you…they have to get through us.”  Well said, and the more politicians of both parties realize that it is through the valor of service people that we are not being abused by dictators, the better this country will run.

God bless our service members, thank you to all those veterans who protected our country for the past 240 years, and God bless America moving forward into what I hope will be an era of peace and prosperity for all.

#Orlando Strong

After the Boston Marathon bombings, we saw examples of heroes and the #BostonStrong was born.  Now, horror has hit close to our home. A toxic mix, this one–50 dead, more than 50 injured by a lone madman.  Investigators are sorting through clues, and while more information will come out at some point, it is clear in part that because of a hatred for gay people, an American who swore allegiance to ISIS was responsible for the carnage. I applaud those who, like me, are praying for those who perished, for those who survived only to face a lifetime of “what if’s” and “it could have been me” and “why did my friend have to die?”  We also pray for the officers who broke down the wall to save the hostages and prevent even more deaths.  We pray for the caregivers in Orlando Health and other hospitals who took quick action to save lives. We pray for our elected officials who said the right things in a time of tragedy to get everyone’s lives back to some semblance of order. We pray for those who took hours to wait in line to give blood. We pray for families and friends who will grieve forever for their missing and lost children, brothers and sisters.

We are now being called the home of the worst mass murder in American history.  Orlando. Yes, the home of the happiest place on earth…of dancing dolphins and Harry Potter…of Spaceship Earth and the destination of more tourists than any place on our planet.  It is too unthinkable to ponder.

So, what to do next….besides pray and help regain a semblance of normality?  The truth is that extremism is now everywhere.  Before you blame this on one obviously mentally diseased individual, all you have to do is read social media to find statements that do not express outrage but blame “political correctness” for all the turmoil.  What is politically correct about 50 people losing their lives in midst of trying to have a fun evening of music and dance?  There have been 5182 murders by gun so far in America year to date.  That might not seem that many in a nation of more than 330 million.  Compared to the more than half a million who have died of heart disease and cancer, it is a small number.  But compared to say, the United Kingdom, with a population of 63 million and 58 murders by handgun in 2011, the last year of comparison…we might have some work to do to get our numbers down.

We live in a free nation, and I am thankful for that.  But to watch the horror of people being killed in a nightclub, a school, a church, a marathon, celebrations of all kinds, is sickening.  We must do something, and I for one am willing to do what is needed to encourage elected officials to end the endless sets of innocents being slaughtered.  I think we should start with restoration of mental health in America.  Follow that with emphasis on yes, looking out for each other.  This killer apparently had at least three brushes with FBI and still was on a security detail which allowed him to purchase and carry a semi-automatic weapon.  That can’t be a good idea for society!  Increased vigilance is needed to curtail such violence.  This fellow apparently also beat and threatened his wife, which turned her into ex-wife, and that should be enough reason to prevent him from a purchase of a semi-automatic weapon.

Not saying take away 2nd Amendment rights.  Just take guns away from people who beat their wives and threaten people repeatedly.  Waiting until such people kill 50 people to do something is not what we should tolerate in America.

Your comments are welcome…but above all…continue to pray for this great city and everyone who calls this home.

Health Care Billing…Ain’t it Fun?

You ever get sick?  Or even go to a doctor for a checkup or what they call a “well patient visit?”  If you have health insurance, you pay a “co pay” up front, then your doctor’s office submits the big bill that you are paying a small portion of to the insurance company, and the insurance company sends you a bill for whatever is leftover that you have to pay.  But since the insurance companies really do not want to track people down, they hire intermediaries to do their bidding, further driving up the outrageous cost of health care in our nation.  I got a bill for $14 from an unnamed company for such a visit.  So I called the company and you will not be surprised to find I had to wait several minutes after punching in the correct numbers:  Press one if you are a doctor (nope, that is not me); press 2 if you are a hospital (again, no); press 3 if you are a patient-success.  During the time I am on hold I got that message that makes you want to reach through the phone and punch someone “Your call is very important to us.”   If it was important, you would either have a human being answer the phone and take my credit card to pay my bill and call it a day….or allow me to leave a message what the call concerned.  But I had no option.  Most companies do not even allow you to press 0 for operator because they do not want to pay an operator…much cheaper to leave you on hold.  They ought to include, “Press 8 if you are so ticked off you cannot see straight and want to punch me in the face right this moment.”  Then the person who “answered” line 8 would not even have to be a human being because you could not pay someone enough to handle such abuse.  But at least it would allow a message to be received.  Anyway, after a few more minutes I received the message “Sorry, we cannot take your call right now…please leave a message.”  But hey, at least my call was very important to them, right?

As a further way of encouraging my call to pay my bill was a boldface note on the bill “Please remit your payment now to avoid collections.”  Well thanks for that threat, but you proved you really do not care about me by refusing to take my call during regular business hours nor accepting my payment.  You could not be bothered to collect my paltry amount, but please keep calling back to insure I won’t be turned over to collections.  Did I mention it was over $14?

I am writing a book about consumer service in America, and I would welcome any stories you might have similar to this.  I know I am not the only one.  I believe the only way we have a chance to change crappy service into acceptable service is to exchange methods of actually serving.  So, leave your reply below…I am always ready to pass along to the reading public!  Thanks.

Incivility in America

Merriam Webster dictionary defines incivility as follows:

Simple Definition of incivility

  • : a rude or impolite attitude or behavior : lack of civility

  • : a rude or impolite act

    My experience has been that dealings in the real estate and business world as a whole have reached a point where incivility has gone past uncommon to the point where almost every day there are instances that make you scratch your head and say “Where did that come from?”

Our most recent episode is dealing with a property management landlord, who instead of following the management agreement to give us 60 days’ notice before the end of agreement that they wanted out, gave us 10 days’ notice, but wanted to avoid the $300 fee for failure to properly cancel.  Since we have to make sure there is a final inspection (which we were not allowed to make), and keep the grounds properly by paying a lawn crew, and make sure the tenant left the property in proper condition, and collect the last month’s rent, and return the security deposit as is required by real estate laws…and the landlord had presumably actually read the agreement before signing…we felt there would be no problem.  They called us everything but children of God for taking such outrageous actions.  Claimed they would report us to the state for following the contract and while I tried to be respectful through the process, she finally admitted “Honestly, if we made our clients adhere to every single aspect of contracts we write, no matter what the situation, I doubt we would get many clients to return to us for more business.”

Think about that for a moment…if we made people follow the contract…no one would come back to us.  I explained that largely because we enforce the terms of the contract, people are MORE than  willing to come back to us because we do what we say, and say what we do, and disclose up front what will happen if the contract is followed, and what will happen if it is broken.

She said I guess we will have to agree to disagree.  Then her husband piled on with a nasty reference that I will not reprint here.   And they wound up, as bullies often do, got what they wanted.  That is the mentality of such folks.

Part of the issue appears to be this… clients and customers often resort to “Do what I want or I will make your life a living hell”–report you to license authorities, standards panels, sue you in court, and so on. Doesn’t matter what I did to provoke the situation and make it worse.  I do not have to read the contract, or be nice to you, or even respect anyone else involved in the process.  “JUST DO IT MY WAY…OR ELSE!”  There is a guy running for President of the United States who runs things that way.  But let’s not get too political in this column.

How about someone you work with to find a home for two years…even knock on doors in that area to find someone willing to sell.  One owner says as soon as I finish up a little work to get it ready, I will let you sell it for X %.  Time passes, calls are made.  No return message…turns out the seller decided to go with one of those companies that charges a small flat fee to put something on MLS and is basically a FSBO–For Sale By Owner.  So agent arranges to show the property to the buyers.  But the buyers go out before the time arranged, sees it with the owner, the owner says “Hey, if we cut out your REALTOR, I will take several thousand off the price!”  Everyone agrees, agent gets nothing.  But who is tricking whom?  Does that self written contract have an appraisal contingency?  No.  Who is holding the escrow?  Do you have a chance to back out if the appraisal comes in low or the inspection turns out horrific defects?  No, not without forfeiting the deposit.  So besides the REALTOR, who got taken advantage of? That would be the buyer, who, if using their loyal REALTOR, could have prevented disaster.  “Let us pay you a few thousand for taking care of us for two years and looking after what we forgot to put in the contract.”  Really?  The height of incivility.  But it happens every day throughout America.  We have to live up to the REALTOR Code of Ethics.  Many of our agents and I have graduated from the Gold Key Certification program sponsored by the Orlando Regional Realtor Association, which takes business ethics and practice to a new and higher level.  We at the board are attempting to spread it throughout the nation, which will help us deal with bad behavior in our industry.  But what about bad behavior in the public?  Seems no recourse except the courts for even extreme bad behavior.  Most of us would prefer not to go to court or arbitration every time someone does something horrific to us.

So the bottom line is this…in the immortal question of Rodney King 25 years ago “Why can’t we all just get along?”  Make an effort to treat each other with respect, loyalty, even, dare I say “friendship.”  It should be expected of everyone in every profession, but it should be returned by the customers and clients on the other side of the table.  You expect professional behavior.  But can you act like a jerk if you disagree with something?  You can, but you shouldn’t.  Next time you witness bad behavior, try being nice to the person.  Ask to get it corrected.  If that does not work, it is OK to fire the client…or the vendor…just make sure if you have signed a contract, you know what it says about termination process. Then follow that contract to the letter so there are no misunderstandings.

Always interested in feedback, so please contact me with questions, examples, and the like.  Have a great day!