<![CDATA[vinyardschoice.com - Blog: R.E. Tales]]>Thu, 02 Dec 2021 16:10:00 -0500Weebly<![CDATA[Timber]]>Thu, 02 Dec 2021 00:34:44 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/timberMy training and expertise does not qualify me to judge timber yields or value, which goes up and down seasonally as markets rise and fall and as demand for certain species changes, so potential timber value, if any, is not something I can expertly advise people on. That disclosure over with, I’ll go on…


Do not ignore timber value. Years ago, one of my clients had a 350 acre woodlot and he took out two species, ash and cherry, and only those above 18” diameter at “breast height”. That’s a pretty big tree. Do you know what he received? $350000. That’s right, $1000/acre, which is more than he could have sold it for at that time, land and trees together. And his land was worth nearly as much after the harvest than it was before. Why? Buyers usually do not pay much attention to such things and since the woodlot was left looking nice, a typical buyer would be happy with it. There were still plenty of big trees left to admire, since only the two species had been taken. 


On the opposite side of things there was a 100 acre woodlot outside St. Johnsville we had for sale - -until the owner decided to log it. He got a very different kind of logger. Loggers and foresters are not the same thing, keep that in mind.  When the logger was done, it looked like God had been through it with a weed whacker. There were 30” deep skidded ruts all over. Slash was everywhere, hip deep in places. Once perfectly healthy trees, the few that were not taken, were scarred and bent by the skidders, disfigured and damaged beyond what time could restore. The place was a nightmare. And it would take 50 years before it began looking normal. Brush and briers were beginning to spring up. Since nearly every tree was taken, there was now enough light coming in to allow them to sprout.


You see, loggers are the professionals with the absolutely worst reputation, worse even than politicians, worse even than preachers and real estate agents. And for good reason. They have been known to ”not notice’ when, chainsaws in hand, they crossed over the line into a neighbor’s forest. They may have agreed to give you half of what they took, apparently honestly putting felled trees into two piles of equal size. Only one has the more valuable trees and your pile holds the culls. Or they may have just said that there was not nearly as much timber there as you thought, so your return was disappointing. Was this guy being honest? Or was he selling more and telling you about only part of it? Were you there, watching every load that went out? Don’t get me wrong, there are scrupulously honest ones too. But how do you know which is before you, talking slickly? If you don’t employ a forester to work for you at least ask for references and talk to the references at length. Find out how he left the property when he left? Was the slash all removed? Burned? Left in neat piles? Or left just wherever it fell? Were the skidder ruts filled in? How do they know they got a fair return?


 If it is felt that real timber value exists on a place, my suggestion is to employ a professional forester to do an evaluation. In many cases, timber value has surprisingly little effect upon the price any given property may sell for. If you have owned a place for years and have not done any logging, it may be well worth the expense of having the timber resources professionally evaluated. A professional forester can evaluate not only the value of standing timber but also the health of the stands and make recommendations for improvements. If employed to find a harvester for timber, he will put it out for bids  - but only among those firms he knows are reliable, honest, and will leave the forest clean afterward. And he will monitor the harvest to make sure only those trees he designates will be taken. He knows what value is there and will make sure you get your fair share.  And he’ll make sure you are not left with a mess and a severely devalued property.


Let’s take the above paragraph apart some. If you have owned it for years and have never logged it, that does not guarantee you will have real value. If it was in woods when you bought it, then very likely. If it was brush, then maybe not. I went through a woodlot that was full of white pine, probably our more desirable species of softwood lumber. Trees were big around at the base, but then usually split into several vertical branches a few feet up from the ground. Those were not nearly so large. What happened? Daughter #2, the internet guru, did some research and determined this was due to a disease. I have since seen it in several stands, now that ai have learned to look for it. A forester might tell you to take them all down, chip them, and plant another species - then wait 25 years. Or he might know a pellet or plywood company that can use such timber.


I once hired a forester to separately appraise a property that I was appraising, then moved him to a woodlot I owned that I felt had potential for timber. Boy, did I learn a lot that day! The first thing I learned was that I didn’t know nearly enough. He’d look at one tree, one I felt was of dubious worth, and say, “That is worth $300”, then point out another that looked the same to me and say it wasn’t worth anything due to some disease. Then he’d show me how to recognize the symptoms. He’s show me one there that worth hundreds 2 months ago, but with the changing market for that species, he’d now advise me to let it grow. In general, it’s the hardwood species which ebb and flow in demand and price. He also suggested that I just cut down certain trees and let them rot, the idea being that they were just competition (for sunlight, for minerals, for space) for more desirable trees. Since that involved work and time and since I wanted to sell the place, I did not do these things. I hired him to help me decide how much I could get for the woodlot when sold. And I passed along his recommendations to the new owner once I found one.


Once I made a sealed bid on a property I wanted to buy. There was a field, an old home, some other buildings and lots of woodland. Bob, a friend was the successful bidder. Later on, he placed the woodland for sale with me. I had not even gone in it before, being chiefly interested in the buildings and open land. Gosh, the place was like a park! Big trees, no undergrowth, grass between the trees, a peaceful and beautiful space. Then he told me, “You know, I took out enough timber here to cover my entire bid.” Boy, had I screwed up by failing to recognize what value there was in that woodlot! His logger had done an exceptional job of leaving things neat and clean. I looked about and, yes by gosh , there were recently cut stumps. But they did not jump out at me like they would in a property left in a lesser condition. The now-harvested woodlot sold readily, too.


Buyers see a recent cutting with white-faced stumps all about and slash lying in your way everywhere and their minds begin to yell, “Rape”. So if you are going to take a cutting, plan to do so some years before you want to sell it. Then take the time to let the slash rot to nothing (or sell it for firewood) and let the stumps get covered with moss. Get the ruts filled in if the logger did not do that for you. Or be really smart like Bob was. He makes his living doing things such as this.
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<![CDATA[The Market Doesn't Care]]>Fri, 19 Nov 2021 05:00:00 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/the-market-doesnt-care      A decade or two ago, I spoke frequently with a family who wanted land. They were folks who had obviously never had much money, but were poised to come into quite a bit as their rent-controlled apartment was going to be razed and they were the sole holdouts. They’d been holding out for years and were the only ones left in the entire building.  “A long shot”, I thought, but it turned out they ended up relatively wealthy, at least relative to where they’d started from. Mostly, my relationship was frequent phone calls and emails, very friendly ones I must say. Then they finally scheduled a visit, one which proved a disaster for me, as they arrived 30 hours late, driving up from New York City (3 hours away). It became obvious from that one showing that they had no clue about what good land is, or even on what they wanted. We drove around a neglected field and one of them got all excited over seeing a seedling pine tree (they were all over). They asked if they could have it and, upon receiving an affirmative answer, pulled it up, leaving some of the roots in the ground.  Then they sat it in the back of the car where it could get full sunshine and dry out good and thoroughly on the 30 (?) hour trip back. They wanted to plant it in a window box. “That pine is doomed”, I thought, just like the day had been for me.

     They never did buy from me or anyone else in the firm, though they looked with the others as well. No loyalty, despite  years of friendly exchanges. Some years later,  I got a message from the son, Roberto, who  had always been my contact. They’d bought not one but two pieces of land and one was only a mile away from me! Not only was there a lack of loyalty, but it was a kick in the pants. My solace was that both pieces were kind of crappy land, though one held some potential. If things did not turn out well, we could not be blamed. 

     At long intervals, I would get a friendly note or a call from Roberto, often telling me about events in his family’s life. And he liked to hear about my family as well, though he’d never met any of them. Some folks are like that and I am alway glad to keep up the relationship. Most just want to use me and then forget me when they have no more need for my services, so it is refreshing when one wants to keep the relationship going. Some years passed and the exchanges started again. Now, he wanted to sell one of his pieces of land. We talked, and the price he quoted  that he wanted was several times what the market would bear. I told him so, but Roberto insisted that was what he wanted. I wished him good luck.

     Three more years passed before the next contact. He wanted to sell them both now, and of course for the same ridiculous price. He’d been half-heartedly advertising them, but had gotten nowhere, which was hardly surprising. Buyers are not fools. This began a very long email exchange. When I give long explanations, I like to make them in writing so the recipient can go back over and ponder what I have said. Through the course of the correspondence, I gave many, many long explanations on what market conditions were, why he could not expect to get anywhere near what he’d hoped for. Now, in response to my arguments, he was willing to come down - but to a figure only 3 times what each was worth. That was an improvement, I suppose, not that it would make much difference.

     I was pretty frank and said, in as every way I could think of, that people would not pay anywhere near what he wanted. If he had to get that, then he had better expect to wait some years for the market to approach those figures. How long? I didn’t know, who does? A decade maybe? Perhaps longer. I even told him the best reason for me to even take the listing was to make other property look better. 

     Roberto’s response: well, they’d owned it all these years and paid taxes all that time, didn’t they have a right to get back their investment? ….Well, no. No one ever has a “right” to make money or even to keep from losing it. This is the United States and we embrace capitalism. No guarantees.  As an aside, adding  the years of taxes to their purchase price (which was not cheap, they definitely did not get any bargains when they bought, which was also at the height of a price spike), and they would still be asking for a 2-300% profit. It didn’t sink in, none of it. I was convincing only myself.

     I told him that buyers don’t care what his investment is or if he made or lost money; they only care if what they buy is worth it to them.  And they are definitely going to check prices on similar properties before they buy,  especially in these days when all you need to do that is an internet connection. I mentioned that once in a great while a buyer, thinking he was astute, will look up what someone paid for the land they are selling. It’s public information and available to anyone who knows how to look for it. And these “astute” buyers may then complain if someone is making too much money. My response to them is that they should always focus on what anything is worth to them, not what someone else paid for it. Immediately after saying that, I follow through with this: “If the seller was losing money on it, would you up your price?” Naturally, none of them would ever do that and they then realize the foolishness of their line of reason. Or they should. Some won’t.

     This sort of  reasoning does not work on Roberto. I told him that every property on the market is in competition with each other and the cheapest ones sell first, nearly every time. So, if you are over-priced, the best you can hope is that the competition gets sold off and then your turn comes. But that only works if nothing new comes on the market, so it’s not of much use. He replies like a stuck record, that he deserves a return on his investment (>200%?). He has a teflon mind: my explanations and reasoning just refuse to stick.

     I explain to hm why his land is not that good. One piece is flat and wet and a huge high line cuts it into. the other  has  a very shallow soil, especially at one end. Heck, at that end, there is no soil, zero. He says that is why he likes them - they are flat. The land was run-down  decade ago when he bought it and one piece has not even been farmed since. The bushes are only more prevalent and higher now. Then he tells me of the great barn that there is on that piece. I explain that this barn is nearly 50 years old now and the town values it at only $2000. Which gives me an idea - look up assessed valuations, which I do. And lo and behold, it turns out that the Town figures (at fair market value, current prices) they are worth even less than the figures I have quoted him, which in turn are a fraction of what he wants. I let Roberto put that in his pipe and smoke it for a while.

     He called back, making the same arguments. But now he is willing to capitulate some; won’t someone just make him an offer?  I reply that other than professionals and certain ethnic groups, people just don’t do that. If the asking price is not close to what they want to pay, they will not bother to make an offer. (True, very true.) I finally agreed to take someone by one of them in the next couple of days, which I did. The buyer, who was ethnic, told me to not even stop but did ask a single question: why was the seller asking so much money?

     A few days later, Roberto asked me what the buyer thought about the land. I told him, talking to deaf ears. Hey, Roberto, wanting something does not make it so. The market does not care what you want. Nor do buyers. So he finally agreed to ask a bit less, only 2 1/4 times its worth on a good day. The current dialog has been going on almost daily for a month now. Last night, I was up to midnight preparing listings to get signed. Let’s see if he signs them. I ‘ll bet that he will want to add my commission on top of the price he wants.

     Roberto is a motivated seller too. They are in danger of losing their home to the bank. Their taxes are behind and the County could be taking any of their three properties and that has got their bank worried about their investment in the home (which is not for sale, not now). But I am not worried about them losing their home as they have lots of experience staving off institutions. They know all the tricks.]]>
<![CDATA[What Affects Land Value?]]>Mon, 04 Oct 2021 01:21:20 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/what-affects-land-valueWhat Affects Land Values?
What gives land  (not buildings) its value to people? Here’s what is most commonly valued, based upon the order I think of things. You may order them differently - and should.

WHAT ADDS VALUE ?
1) A mixture of open and wooded land
2) Views
3) Water (steams, rivers, farm ponds, lakes – generally, the bigger, the better)
4) Green open fields, or fields growing impressive crops
5) Privacy and quiet (which are not the same thing)
6) An area where folks want to live
    a) Condition of nearby properties
    b) Low taxes, good schools, distance from jobs
    c) Proximity to amenities
    d) Who the neighbors are (relatives, friends, values, and mores….)
7) Timber value (many fail to consider this – a few do; everyone should)
8) Variety in the topography and landscape
9) Quality of soils, levels of fertility
10) Organic certification (some could care less – I look at this as a selling point more than something that adds dollar value, meaning it attracts, but only a few would pay extra for it)
11) Recreation potential (off road vehicles users and hunters regularly buy land, cyclists and fishermen don’t)
12) Easy to visualize boundaries
13) Sunset potential, along with a general feeling of brightness

WHAT HURTS LAND VALUE ?
1) Woods that have been recently heavily cut, especially those showing big ruts with slash lying around (buyers think “rape”)
2) Neighbors that are too close (most of my buyers come to escape urban and suburban landscapes)
3) Large power lines and, to a much lesser degree, pipelines (this aversion was much worse many years ago, but it still persists)
4) Lack of access to electric power and, to a lesser degree, internet, natural gas, cell phone service…)
5) High taxes (high taxes hurt far more than low taxes help)
6) Wetlands and, less often, steep land
7) Lack of eye appeal (duh)
8) Inability to see most of the property from a single vantage point (truly hidden places are fine to advertise but are harder to sell)
9) Rights someone else has over your land (mineral rights, Right of Ways, water or hunting rights, deed restrictions, tenancies…)
10) Lack of easy vehicular access – nobody wants to build up driveways over wet land, to erect bridges, or to bulldoze away knolls that are too steep
11) Famously poor or disliked schools
12) Brush – it says you do not care enough about your land to keep it clean or maybe it wasn’t worth improving – and it also tells folks that if they want it to look clean, it’s going to cost them in both effort and money.
13) Being surrounded by nearby higher land (they call it “being in a hole”)
14) Weird shapes to the land boundaries (believe it or not, some folks have a thing for straight lines and rectangles)

Naturally enough, each of these does not affect every buyer the same. Each sets their own values, none embrace or reject all those which I have described above. So, I speak in generalities. Take neighbors that are too close for example: I have actually lost a couple of sales because the wife or someone wanted nearby neighbors and didn’t feel they had enough of them at a particular place. But for every one of these which I lost, there were 50 who rejected a property because the neighbors were too close. One man’s meat, another man’s poison.

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<![CDATA[A Race Like No Other]]>Mon, 06 Sep 2021 15:31:32 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/a-race-like-no-other9/6/21 A Race Like No Other
    Sam was getting older and the hunting properties he’d cherished were turning into a burden, so it was time to liquidate some of them. One in particular was a problem; neither of us knew how to price it. He’d ask me to get it sold, I’d ask him how much he wanted. And so it went for a couple of years. Finally this spring he made it clear he wanted it gone. So once again I wracked my mind to figure out the highest price that would be obtainable.

    I do appraisals.  Why was this so hard? Well, you see this was no typical property. 30 acres of woodland, but that’s where comparable stopped. Nearly every inch was steep. Power was 1/4 mile away, and the Right of Way in, while a once-paved abandoned Town road, was quite steep, not in good repair, and the final culvert was washed out, leaving a steep 6’ deep gully, 20’ wide. From top to bottom was a 300’ vertical rise. Though structurally sound, the cabin who been heavily vandalized and never had water, septic or public power. It hurt me to witness the increasing vandalism over the years as I like to think our area is free from such acts. It almost is.

    But then there were attributes that added to the value, namely a series of waterfalls and swimming holes. Some of the falls were along 2 small  side streams, but the one that got serious attention was in a creek which formed the western boundary. The main falls was over 100’ high and had a large plunge pool at the bottom. And was far prettier than your average 100’ falls. Because the water before the falls flowed some distance over flat rock, its water was unusually warm. During storms, it might be 3’ deep, falling 50’ wide. In drier times, a peaceful sight. In the winter, one can climb behind the falls and look through crystalline ice to the outside. Below the falls were a series of smaller falls and more swimming holes. Isolated yet so close to town, it enjoyed excellent cell reception. It looked like a State park in the raw; in fact the Town once considered taking it for a park. There is nothing like it that had ever come for sale.

So, knowing we had to start somewhere, I priced it at roughly $3000 an acre, reasoning that once in a while some land brings that much here. We could always come down if necessary. It turns out what I’d established was not the asking price, it was the starting price. This hit the market just as COVID-inspired sales began to skyrocket and prices all over the US began their steep rise. On my first ads, we had no clue of what was about to happen.

But we figured it out pretty quickly. The phone rang off the wall. Me and my salesman Pete could not keep up with the showings. I had to create a database to keep track of the offers. One day, I showed it to 10 parties, walking 6 miles and climbing over 3000 vertical feet in the process. The entrance along the road began to look like a parking lot. We did this for 2 weeks to give enough folks a chance to see it and to make their offers, then we would accept the one Sam liked best. That happened to be one of the very first parties to visit; they’d offered, cash, well over 50% higher than the starting price. Short and sweet, huh?

Well, it proved to be neither. It seems the buyers wanted a survey. No problem: we had not one but two of them. I need to interrupt and do some explaining. Back in the mid-80s, when Sam bought it, Edwin, the owner, said he had a survey, but at the closing had to admit he couldn’t find it.. No problem, Sam ordered a new survey.

That’s where the problems began. When the new one was completed, we learned there were 20 acres, not 30, and the missing land was the part that connected with the right of way and contained the foundation upon which Sam wanted to build a cabin. You have to understand, this was a very cheap sale. Lawyers don’t like to waste too much time on cheap sales where not much money is at stake for either party. And since neither Edwin or Sam were hurting for money, so they diid not push too hard for a resolution.

Finally, Edwin found his survey. It looked radically different from the new survey. His surveyor had died  a number of years prior., so we couldn’t go to him for  any answers.  Things went along, with tensions between Sam and Edwin tightening slowly but surely. Edwin did not like to have his word doubted, but could not prove that he was right. The new survey was unassailable.

Finally I tried to intervene. Going through the old deeds, I went back over the years, deed after deed, until 1920, when one of them appeared to be more accurate than the ones that had followed it. I copied down the description and tried to draw a map. I couldn’t, so took the figures to a  engineer who ran them off on a computer program. It didn't close (meaning the starting and ending points were not the same, there was an error somewhere), but it came close enough to still encourage me. Playing with my copy machine, I changed the scale of this line drawing until it matched the 400 feet to the inch scale of my aerial photos. Then, I made a overlay on clear plastic and took it to Edwin’s lawyer. We taped the aerial to the window and then the over lay on top of it. Instantly the lawyer recognized what the problem was. He knew how to settle it.

It seems when Edwin had sold his farm a few years ago, the buyers had ended up with more than the farm. Mistakenly, they also got the missing part of the waterfall property. To be fair to the new owners, they never knew this, and had never considered that they “owned” this land. But now that they knew it was legally theirs, they didn’t want to let it go. This riled Edwin, as you might expect. For years, he had let them use his bulldozer whenever they wanted. He let them take hay, for free, from a field that he continued to own. Edwin held the mortgage on the farm and each year, he gave them back their last payment, saying they might as well have it as the IRS.  And  if they didn’t play ball and give it back, all this was going to end. Since it was  steep, wooded land, land they had no use for and never thought they owned, they saw the logic in Edwin’s threats and gave in and the dilemma between Edwin and Sam was settled.

Back to the present. It seems the original survey had been housed with Edwin’s lawyer’s records. But a few years ago, the creek in town had flooded, wiping out many decades of records the firm had stored in their basement. The tax maps and deed descriptions were correct, but we could not prove it with surveys. A desperate search was made for another copy of the the original survey. We found a surveyor in another county who had in a roundabout way ended up with the original surveyors records, a pile 2’ or so thick. He did not find what we wanted and was too busy to make a concerted search.

What all this meant was the the new buyers had originally asked for a new survey but Sam said, “I gave them everything I had. The title is clear and the description accurate. If they want a third survey, let them do it.” But they wouldn’t. And this led to a 6 month-long stalemate, during which each party began to plead with me to get the other moving forward. I tied, but good nowhere.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, buyers continued to call - despite me clearly marking it “UNDER CONTRACT”. They either hoped it would fall through or did not know what those words meant.  Regardless, they kept calling. At times it was my most active property, if measured by inquiries received. My database grew to nearly 250 separate parties, some of which who had made backup offers, more than doubling the starting price. As time wore on, the pace of the inquiries increased. Some were savvy enough to realize that if it had gone this long without closing, there was a problems and they hoped to take advantage of this. Others were clutching at straws because there were so few other properties left on the market. And none of those had waterfalls.  With each inquiry I carefully answered their questions and explained that it might or might not every reach the open market where they could seriously consider it.  But I would let them know if it did.

By this time, my inventory was 20% of what was normal. I half-joked with people: “Yes, I am making a ton of money this year, but may find myself out of business next year.” A bit funny but way too likely. It is a seller’s market, something we have not witnessed in the 40 years I have been in real estate;

So finally Sam’s lawyer gave the other side a “time of the essence” letter, meaning “either close right now or withdraw”. This letter closely followed an offer from one of my new callers to buy them out (he offered them a very large incentive to withdraw in his favor - but they did not even consider this). That was evidence they really wanted the place and after a couple of days, Sam’s lawyer called to tell me a closing was scheduled.

Then he called to tell me of a new wrinkle. It seems Sam had formed an LLC for his  various properties in New York and New England, a plan designed to make it easy on his heirs. We knew this but had just found out that Sam’s downstate attorney, who had done all that work, had never filed the deed in the LLC’s name. It was still in the old name as far as the State and County knew, which is what all the title documents and searches were based upon. Now, they had to repeat the process under the new LLC name. Since it was recent, the process would not be so time-consuming as it was before, but they were not ready to close as they’d supposed when they had drawn the line in the sand with the time of the essence letter.

So, when will it close? Hopefully, later this week. But we’ve heard that before. And then I have to inform 250 people to look elsewhere for their waterfall.]]>
<![CDATA[Keep It Local]]>Wed, 01 Sep 2021 02:14:09 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/keep-it-localThis is something I have learned the hard way: keep your practice local. Well, relatively local. Every so often I run across a property that is definitely not local. Maybe the owner has met me , likes the way I do things, and begs me to take the listing on their property even though it isn’t nearby. Maybe it’s a friend who lives out of the area. Maybe the price is so low I think I won’t have to make too many long drives to get it sold. Though I should not admit it, I can be easily swayed by opportunity. I learn the lesson again and again.

My first year at this, I listed 2 properties located 3 hours to the Northeast and another which was 4 hours to the northwest. I remember the trip well as when I got to Saratoga, my exhaust manifold broke  and I sounded like a race car driver for the next two days, amazed no police hauled me in and impounded the car.  Hardly anyone called on the places and I only showed the two once. At least I did not tie them up in an exclusive contract, so no owners got made at me for such poor performance.

Also early in my career, we took on a salesman from the central and lower Hudson Valley. He went right out and got several good listings. Well, they were good for everything but price. Compared to property in this area, they were double in price. Compared to properties around them, those prices weren't bad, so it seemed to Mort, my broker, that we ought to be able to nip off a few of these. They were obviously nice farms. Only no one called. And this went on for a very long time. I drew the conclusions, probably perfectly correct at the time, but less so today, that most of our buyers then didn’t care where they lived. They cared about the land, the buildings and the price. And the price on these places scared them off. In the very few opportunities I had to speak with folks who called on them, I’d explain they were in a very different area, where prices were far higher. But the milk price there was only slightly higher than ours and they could not see it working, not when they could get a similar place here for half the amount. Those farms just did not look good in comparison with the others we offered. Folks here were underselling them.

Finally, I got a call on one. The fellow wanted a particular place and I quickly returned his call Was this my opportunity for a big commission? Talking to the buyer, I got brought back to earth quick enough. He sounded young and naive. Then I found out he had almost no money. “Then, why did you select such an expensive farm?” I asked, genuinely perplexed. “Oh, I thought I’d might as well start at the top”, he said. This was taking naivete to a new level.

He had not given a thought on how he could pay for the farm. It was the most expensive we offered then and he’d assumed it was the best, for that reason alone. He’d never thought how it could be financed. No bank is going to loan 100% and they are not going to loan to someone who is wringing wet behind the ears.

I had a friend from Hawaii list his place with us informally. We’d made arrangements for a local broker to do the showing and to keep us legal as we were not licensed in Hawaii. I had no idea how that was going to work out, but we did get calls. No showings of course. But it sold right away. Then one of my customers asked me if we could help them sell their place in northern Maine. If it would sell, they could buy down here. I explained that this was way too far for us to show and we made arrangements that we would get a straight advertising fee upon sale, not a commission. I asked lots of questions of them and received lots of photos so I could field calls intelligently. We had a few calls and one showing, which went poorly. Then by mutual consent we gave it up.

Years later, I got a listing call from the Castletons, who had very large farm near the Canadian border. I talked with them for a good while and decided I’d take it on. It was interesting and I wanted to see if I could pull it off. I went up there, visited everything, took copious notes and tons of photos. Then they gave me a price. This was a truly beautiful place, impeccably kept, and very large, but they were overpriced by a factor of 2. My mistake was not establishing the price before I went up; by coming there I’d kind of committed myself to the effort. Try as I might, I could not make them believe that just because their name was Castleton (they were respected locally, as they deserved), it did not make the farm worth more to anyone else. Sighing to myself, I figured this one would be for the long haul as they were people who had to learn by experience, not from advice I could give them. Since it was so big, we got a pleasant number of calls and many of them resulted in showings, eight hours of driving each time I made the trek. It took  another 4 hours to show the property.  But the buyers were not dumb and they kept their hands in the pockets with their checkbooks carefully hidden. The Casteltons eventually lowered the price - over a year later - but not by much, Then, with more time, they lowered it again. Then the bank foreclosed and a neighbor bought it for cents onto dollar. A firesale price. Their pride cost them dearly; I could have saved some of their equity had they been willing to listen to reason.

At the same time, I listed 2 smaller farms in the next county west. We were to do the advertising, vet the customers, provide information to them, set up showings for the owner to do. We’d also do the contrast and keep the legal work moving forward. It didn’t take long for the owners to get tired of showing their farm and not getting a sale. They’d have to rearrange their personal schedule to accommodate the customers, wait for them to arrive and deal with a few who never arrived yet never told anyone they’d changed their minds. I actually got a buyer for one farm and then - you can’t makes this up - the guy decided to buy a home the owner’s mother wanted to sell. A house in town, not a farm. So he never got his  place sold and I never got a commission. But the buyer got a house. Whoopee.

A year later, I learned of a property that sounded to too good to be true and made arrangements to visit it, over next to Lake Champlain. Well, it wasn’t as nice as I’d been led to believe but even so, it was a great buy. The land was nice enough but there were suspiciously few farmers in the area. I wasn't sure what to make of that. Pressure from vacationers? We listed it - only to learn two weeks later that they listed it exclusively with a local agent. How could they forget this? It made us look terrible, it’s a total breach of protocol. The other agent was really nice and offered us a Co-Exclusive on it. We found a cash buyer right away, someone I’d worked extensively with a few years prior. He’d seen an ad, called me, then drove up from Florida to see it. The sellers hemmed and hawed, then sold it to someone else, someone they knew. We didn’t make a cent - I don’t know about the other broker. I learned a year later that their deal did not work out (it involved some sort of rent), but by then, I’d had enough of that place and thought I’d never see that town again.

That lasted a few months, then Paul Brion called. We’d been talking about property over this way for a while. He asked me to list his place. Like a fool, I went up to visit and decided I could sell it. He owned 100 acres, but cropped 1000, all of it totally rent free.  Paul is a good farmer - you could tell it was land he used just by looking at it. Better crops than any neighbor’s. He had good markets for his feed and was making a lot of money. That brought customers in and I showed it quite a few times. Then Paul recognized he’d never made more money anywhere else and decided to stay. Disappointed, I couldn’t blame him, he really was best off to stay.

Then Jake Calhoun called, wanting a place. We found him one and he asked us to sell his property for him. Only he was in St. Lawrence County. I went up to look at it. He’d made a local reputation for the quality of his beef and he wanted more of a farm, and in a more affluent area (which St. Lawrence County most decidedly is not). The “farm” was barely worthy of the name,  a lot of woods and just a bit of wet and rocky pasture. But a nice home, frontage on a great river, and a reasonable price. He would do the showing and we’d do everything else. He also listed another property with us - a freestall, a bit run-down, on 14 acres, on a major highway, with ho home. Who is going to want something like that? To my amazement we found a cash buyer for that right away and the sale went like clockwork. But no one would call on the farm and Jake finally gave up on us a couple of years later. I think he’s still there. It’s just the wrong area for our customers.

When a place is closer, we save a ton of travel time and gas. We know the local market, who to recommend for services (lawyers, inspectors, banks, contractors, feed dealers….) and we know the ins and outs of life here. We can answer customer’s questions and help them after the fact. We know what the good buys are here and can make useful recommendations to both clients and customers. We can authoritatively field concerns about weather, jobs, schools, zoning, shopping, hospitals, all that sort of stuff. We know who the good lawyers are and who to avoid. Buyers can come to us and see several places in a day, not just one. When you work out of the area, none of this is the case.

There were several others I could mention. I’ve told you about  every single sale I made out of the area, all one of them, the lucky one for Jake. Go too far from home and you just handicap yourself and don’t help anyone else. On the other hand, my everyday local area is 5000 square miles….]]>
<![CDATA[The Current Market]]>Wed, 04 Aug 2021 14:11:28 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/the-current-market]]><![CDATA[What Affects Land Values]]>Sun, 14 Mar 2021 13:46:24 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/what-affects-land-valuesWhat gives land  (not buildings) its value to people? Here’s what is most commonly valued, based upon the order I think of things. You may order them differently - and should.

WHAT ADDS VALUE ?
1) A mixture of open and wooded land
2) Views
3) Water (steams, rivers, farm ponds, lakes – generally, the bigger, the better)
4) Green open fields, or fields growing impressive crops
5) Privacy and quiet (which are not the same thing)

6) An area where folks want to live
    a) Condition of nearby properties
    b) Low taxes, good schools, distance from jobs
    c) Proximity to amenities
    d) Who the neighbors are (relatives, friends, values, and mores….)
7) Timber value (many fail to consider this – a few do; they all should)
8) Variety in the topography and landscape
9) Quality of soils, levels of fertility
10) Organic certification (some could care less – I look at this as a selling point more than something that adds dollar value, meaning it attracts, but only a few would pay extra for it)
11) Recreation potential (off road vehicles users and hunters regularly buy land, cyclists and fishermen don’t)
12) Easy to visualize boundaries
13) Sunset potential, along with a general feeling of brightness

WHAT HURTS LAND VALUE ?
1) Woods that have been recently heavily cut, especially those showing big ruts with slash lying around (buyers think “rape”)
2) Neighbors that are too close (most of my buyers come to escape urban and suburban landscapes)
3) Large power lines and, to a much lesser degree, pipelines (this aversion was much worse many years ago, but it still persists)
4) Lack of access to electric power and, to a lesser degree, internet, natural gas, cell phone service…)
5) High taxes (high taxes hurt far more than low taxes help)
6) Wetlands and, less often, steep land
7) Lack of eye appeal (duh)
8) Inability to see most of the property from a single vantage point (truly hidden places are fine to advertise but are harder to sell)
9) Rights someone else has over your land (mineral rights, Right of Ways, water or hunting rights, deed restrictions, tenancies…)
10) Lack of easy vehicular access – nobody wants to build up driveways over wet land, to erect bridges, or to bulldoze away knolls that are too steep
11) Famously poor or disliked schools
12) Brush – it says you do not care enough about your land to keep it clean or maybe it wasn’t worth improving – and it also tells folks that if they want it to look clean, it’s going to cost them in both effort and money.
13) Being surrounded by nearby higher land (they call it “being in a hole”)
14) Weird shapes to the land boundaries (believe it or not, some folks have a thing for straight lines and rectangles)

Naturally enough, each of these does not affect every buyer the same. Each sets their own values, none embrace or reject all those which I have described above. So, I speak in generalities. Take neighbors that are too close for example: I have actually lost a couple of sales because the wife or someone wanted nearby neighbors and didn’t feel they had enough of them at a particular place. But for every one of these which I lost, there were 50 who rejected a property bec
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<![CDATA[Wells Fargo]]>Sun, 14 Feb 2021 17:41:13 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/wells-fargo                  (Your experiences with this huge firm may be quite different than my own... I hope they are.)
       I have this perennial fear of mortgage brokers and the kind of banks who advertise in the Sunday papers. They are set up to do home loans, not farms and property with acreage and have so often led my buyers down the rosy path.. a rosy path to no where. But JR wanted a place we had with only 2 acres and he wanted a starter home. He was already pre-approved by Wells Fargo, so naturally, I steered him in their direction. The place he wanted was not a place with acreage like we usually deal with, so why not give them a try?
       Now, the distant past, that was a different story. Years ago, I  had been contacted by some Wells Fargo agent out of Minnesota who told me of a wonderful program they now had for hobby farmers. We sell a lot of hobby farm property, so I was glad to get another source of funding. I am cautious about working with new (to me) banks, but soon enough found a great prospect for them.  Roger had agreed to buy a 130 acre farm with a new barn and old home that was in nice shape. The price was right. He had enough equity in homes he owned downstate to pay for the property if he sold either of them. He had no debt. He also had a $40,000 downpayment, which represented nearly 1/3 of the total price. Good credit. Retirement income. Stable older couple with a long and good credit history. Perfect. He wanted a loan to buy the farm now, so he could finish some work on the one home he wanted to sell in order to receive a better price when he would be ready to market it.
       An easy loan to make – or so they said when I made the initial call to Wells Fargo. As time went on, there were more and more delays. I have often told the people I deal with that the only guarantee that I make is that there will be surprises. We got them. Excuse after excuse why they could not yet make the loan, more papers to be filled out, more hurdles to jump over. Meanwhile Allen, the owner, moved to his new job in Utah. Finally, after several months, they turned Roger down. Why? I had to know. Because he was going to rent the other home to his son! They were afraid the son would not pay rent and he would just let him live there and not make his own payments. Huh? And they would not worry about a tenant no one knew wrecking the home or failing to make payments?  And there was another excuse they gave, equally improbable, but the dustbin of my memory cannot bring it up. Allen was disgusted and offered to finance the farm to him and put off owning  his own place in his new location until Roger could pay him off.
       Years pass. We had two customers buy through Wells Fargo and had no more than the usual glitches, both were homes with small or tiny acreage. One of them was an interesting case. From Las Vegas, Dan was a Yankees fan, through and through. He was tired of Las Vegas and wanted to retire to New York and be in the country instead of a development. Being near Cooperstown was a big deal for him. “That’s where you find old Yankees”, he said. He thought maybe a hobby farm or a B & B would be right for him. I showed him several potential places and one got him excited. It should have. A very, very  good buy with oodles of acreage and long road frontage dividing it 2 ways, it had  an old Italianate brick home that was spectacular in its own way. I believe this home was the most original home with the neatest old features that I have ever seen for sale. Wonderful old woodwork and not painted either (imagine that), big rooms with a cool layout, a great stairway, more rooms in the attic, + views. And it had an original bath with a copper tub and no plumbing (just drains). Above it was a doorlet in the wall that opened to the kitchen sink area, the idea being that you could heat water in the kitchen and pour it through the doorlet directly into the tub. You know, that was considered high tech once.
       Dan recognized the value here and that he could do both the hobby farming and B & B, sell a bit of land, and use that money to do the remodeling and modernizing that it needed. You know, an old home can be modernized without sacrificing its special character. So, he put it under contract and applied somewhere for the loan he would need. A  couple of weeks into this process, he changed his mind about what he wanted to do and withdrew from the contract. It sold within days to another party.
But he still wanted to buy. Meanwhile, Priscilla decided to put her home and 5 acres on the market. That was a good one for Dan. Priscilla was an immaculate house-keeper and her  home was nearly new and was impeccably well-maintained. I told Dan about it. Yes, he was interested, could I take pictures for him? So I did, a whole roll (that dates this story), developed it, and sent it off to him. He agreed to buy, sight-unseen. He didn’t want to drive back east to see it first. Normally, I would do all I could to discourage someone from doing this – it’s a terrible idea that folks try on me every so often. But this time was different. After all, Dan had spent several days with me recently and knew what the area was like. More importantly,  I knew what he meant when he said “good”. “Good” means different things to different folks, depending upon their standards and their point of view. When you use a subjective word like that on the phone with me, I have little to go on to determine what you really mean. But once I have shown you some property and you have given me some feedback, I can see things through your eyes and we can talk on the same page using subjective language. Dan and I had established this rapport. And, of course, how could one improve upon the condition that Priscilla kept her home? He could not fail to be happy with that. The pictures demonstrated the setting, the room layout, the decoration and the color choices and he was well satisfied with that. So he ended up buying it and did not even see it until after the closing. That ended well.
       A bit later on, JR came on the scene (thought I ‘d forgotten him, didn’t you?) and he went through the process. Did he ever. But it was different for him. He was half of a young couple who had little cash money, and no long credit history. But they were local and had both good references and good jobs. On February 3rd, he offered full price after lower offers had failed to interest the owner.  The price was modest anyhow, but it never hurts to try. We immediately entered into contract and 6 weeks later, I called Angel at Wells Fargo for a checkup. They were supposed to get the approval that day but something had happened to their computer. She assured us that “everything looked OK” and that she was “95% certain” it was a go. JR had been in constant contact with her and got her every bit of documentation that she needed as soon as he possibly could.
       A week later, JR told me he was supposed to hear within 24 hours. Yet another week later, I called Angel at Wells Fargo to get an update. She said just one more document was needed (this was beginning to sound like a stuck record – we’d heard that line numerous times already). But she could not foresee any problems, it was just a matter of time. Two days later, I get the word that JR was approved! What? I was expecting to hear that the money was there and they were ready to go ahead and close. The approval was supposed to have been done weeks and weeks ago. What did the “pre-approval” mean? Now, this did not please the Johanna, the owner, one bit, as she had just given word to her tenant to move out. She is a crusty older lady from downstate who is all business. Her holdings have to be earning for her. Period. She is not the kind to suffer fools, but she will do whatever she has to and do it on time.
       Another week passes. A different gal from Wells Fargo called and wanted a revised contract. Huh? Why now? This was not going to please the owner, not one iota. And it was going to mean at least another week’s delay just to shuffle the papers between everyone that needed to sign. But when she received the new contract, she was ready to close, asap. A week later (now I am beginning to sound like the stuck record), I called Angel. She had some questions about the contract they had asked me to revise.
       Two weeks pass; now we are into mid-June. We are “very close” to closing, and Angel had thought they could close the previous week, only JR just got a new (better) job and they needed some form for employment verification. So another week passes. Now Angel says they have not received the form they need. I call JR, it was sent, twice. I call Angela – oh, their fax was broken.
       Let’s skip a bit and fast forward to mid July. Angel said her loan processor (what was she?) was on vacation and she doesn’t know where the files were. Angel is actually a nice gal and we had a talk. After 6 years with Wells Fargo, she was ready to quit over this. She is getting tired of putting JR off.  Two weeks later, now the Wells Fargo attorney wants to see JR’s employment verification. Don’t ask me why he couldn’t get it from Wells Fargo.
       They have had an engineer inspect the home and someone else in for the roof. I had to go up each time for this.  It was fine. But now they need something else from the seller (who is very disgruntled by now) and need someone to inspect it for flooding (after all, they are only 400’ above the nearest body of water that could flood). And Wells Fargo still needs the employment verification. JR’s boss is sick of sending it out to them. JR needs to get it directly from the boss and take it to them in person and have them sign for it, but they won’t accept it this way – we tried.  Now I am switching between two women at Wells Fargo. Neither seems to know what is up and one of them ups and leaves for 2 month’s maternity leave – and forgets to transfer the case to someone else. JR calls them every day now. Early on, I made the mistake of telling him that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease”. Are they pissed now? Or do they just want it closed to get him off their back?
       Another call. The inspector is having trouble getting the information he needs from the Johanna, who has been dealing with him directly.  I thought things would go smoother without me between them. So I call her – and get a different story. She has not spoken to him in weeks but has called him a few times without getting an answer. And she is an unhappy camper. Her tenant has been gone now for 2 1/2 months. The investment is losing money big time. And she has had to spend money on the home that was not intended, all to please the various inspectors. I called Angel and she said that their inspector, who had been responsive in the past, was not getting back to them either.  So I called the owner – and learned that she is about to leave on vacation.
       Now, the Wells Fargo attorney gets re-involved. They are ready to close, have no problem with JR, but don’t have what they need from the office. The main thing they need is clearance to close.  I spoke with the owner on vacation – she is willing to finance it now, just to stop the hemorraging and get her investment working again.
       This story has gone on long enough for you to get the drift of the kind of hassles that can present themselves. By mid August, everyone is disgusted with Wells Fargo. That’s when they tell us that they are not going to make the loan. Their excuse? His new job (which was better paid).  What happened to Angel? She quit over the whole thing and went to work elsewhere.
       The next month was spent negotiating over owner terms, and dealing with JR’s attorney (who was no winner either). That finally fell apart as the owner wanted too high an interest payment. They finally agreed to just rent and JR will save  money toward purchase. By now, it is late October and everyone is just sick of the whole mess.  That was 3 years ago. JR is still there, still renting,  but he has a new job. He took the money he had been saving and started a business with it. I hope it does well – he can get $6900 from the government as part of this year’s stimulus plan and if he is ever going to close, this is the time. Of course I want that, not having been paid yet for anything other than a measly rental sum.
       And what happened to Wells Fargo? Last year, they closed up shop and left town. The building still sits idle. I liked them better when they just drove around in armored cars.

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<![CDATA[What's in that Darn Thing?]]>Sun, 14 Feb 2021 17:37:35 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/whats-in-that-darn-thing       If you’ve been out with me, you’ve seen that big Samsonite briefcase that I lug around. I’ve had it more than 30 years, have worn the skids off the bottom, and now there’s even a small hole in the bottom. If I act like it’s heavy, that’s because it is. What’s in that darn thing?
       It has a big bottom compartment. In there are all my listings and maps for properties in the price range you are considering. And there are a bunch of potential listings, places where I have taken all the information for the listing, then the owner decided to “think about it”. You’ll also find booklets on lead paint poisoning that the great State of New York wants me to hand out with every Purchase Contract. And then there are some sheets of vey fine emory paper. I have long forgotten why these were ever put in there and since I don’t know where else they can go, I guess they call it home now.
       The rest of the compartments are on the lid area. The smallest ones have things like pens, business cards, a calculator and an amortization table booklet. I bought that thing in 1978 and things are a lot different now. The lowest it goes is 7%, not too useful these days. But it covers everything to 18%, what a day dream (or nightmare if you are paying it). But these were realities in 1978.
        The second lid compartment has County maps. They are perennially falling apart. I use them a lot. Scotch tape is my friend, but it doesn’t last.
      The next compartment back, far bigger, has contracts in it, all kinds of forms: listing agreements, several flavors of purchase contracts, a co-listing agreement (hardly ever used), Property Disclosure Statements, leases, an income and expense worksheet for diary farms, a lead-based paint contingency document, a blank Power of Attorney, a Buyer’s Agent Agreement, real estate agency disclosures, an Ag District Disclosure, an auction listing agreement, and a credit check form. Basically, these are these are all forms that need to be filled out at one time or another. I made the decision early on to never be without a form. If you are ready to list or to buy, I want to be ready to accommodate you then and there. I used to carry a manual typewriter and carbon paper with me.
       The back compartment is more interesting. It has useful information in it: silo capacity charts, rates for custom farming, hunting regulations, weather patterns for the State (rainfall, growing season, frost dates), financing information, soil information, a variety of general financial data on dairy farms, maps of tribal land claims, information on taxes, a list of milk haulers, a way to estimate home building costs, a list of milk co-ops, estimates on the numbers of cattle sheep and hogs (by county), statements on ag assessment, loan information, and general census data. Some of this stuff gets out of date and dog-eared, but it stay in there until I can find something more up to date – or until I get embarrassed by its condition.
       In the car are other items that I use: flagging, tons of both current and also old keys (you never know when one of them will fit something), flashlights and head lamps, tape measures of various sizes, lots more maps, aspirin & throat lozenges, a multi-tool, tons of pens & pencils, small candies, marking pens for both permanent & hi-liting, paper towels, 2 umbrellas, a light raincoat, some wrenches & screwdrivers, a towel, some snacks and (when the weather is not freezing) a drink or two, a Fixaflat can, CDs (for when I am by myself), a policeman’s friend if someone gets desperate, lightweight wind pants, another calculator, more business cards, nail clippers…. No wonder the car’s a mess.
       What I don’t have is a far shorter list: no laptop or tablet or PDA, no cell phone or smart phone, no GPS, and no blue teeth. Luddites are not allowed to have such items.

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<![CDATA[Help! The Paranoids Are After Me]]>Sun, 14 Feb 2021 02:08:17 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/help-the-paranoids-are-after-me       If you drive along the Jordanville Rd, you will no doubt notice a beautiful red and white barn that sits by the roadside. Part of the bottom floor is made from beautifully laid stone and the rest is carefully done, but modern and neatly kept. It is an eye-catcher. If you slow down to look at it, you may see that there is a red pipe gate that is closed and locked at the driveway. No one around here gates their drives. Well, almost no one. I do know of another and find it plain weird. But look deeper here and you’ll see something else. There’s a house, hidden by low-hanging trees and bushes. It appears to be an old house, not nearly as well-kept as the barn or the grounds, but it’s hard to tell, it is so obscured by the greenery. You wonder if it is ever lived in.
       As you may have guessed, there is a story coming. We had it listed for sale once, listed by John, not me. As a neighbor, John has known the owners for decades. It was owned by a elderly German couple, Hans and Murtha. Hans had served in WWII, on the other side.The stories he could tell, John tells me. I never understood why they emigrated to the US right after the war, but they did. You would think they would not be welcomed. Maybe they weren’t – that might be an explanation for the rest of the story.
       After they moved in, they lost the barn to fire, not of suspicious origins: not to worry – we’re not like that up here. Being a builder, he undertook to rebuild it. That explains the partial stone first floor. To support themselves during this time, Hans went to New York City and took construction jobs on bridges and things like that. In fact, he made something of a career of this. He never did milk cows here like he had planned. But all the stuff to milk was there, he proudly pointed out. Never mind that the barn, while like new, was now functionally obsolete for that. That’s a fact he could not see. But he always cut the hay, which is why the farm was for sale. He was getting too old to do the work any longer and could not trust a tenant to do it correctly.
       Which is exactly the point. That’s explains the gate. I have never seen such paranoids as Hans and Murtha. They would have cashed in and sold years ago but could not bring themselves to trust anyone. Finally, they decided they could trust John, they had to trust someone to help them sell it. When anyone from the company came with a customer, John had to be there. You never know, I might attack them with a machete or something. John was nice about that and hung around every time I came up. Pretty quick, I found someone who might really want it, a real nice guy from Connecticut who was serious about finding a place, had the money, and wanted to raise beef. The place was perfect for him. The appointment had to be set up through John and he was there when everybody arrived, serving as sort of a body guard or something for Hans and Murtha.
       Hans showed us everything proudly. Then we went in the house and Murtha took over. It was not as bad inside as you might think from the outside. Clean, plain and shiny. They loved glossy paint, odd colors, colors just a bit darker and harder than others might be comfortable with. The thing that struck me about the house more than that was the complete absence of a personal touch. There was nothing on the walls, nothing, no photos, no pictures, no calendars. And nothing personal anywhere else either.
       I learned more about them from John. It seems they hated each other and stuck together because neither trusted the other one enough to allow them a chance to get the upper hand. That coincided with my observations. They did not communicate between themselves any time I was there. When we showed the buildings, one would always be nearby, in the room or hovering around if we were outside while the other was talking about it – but never closer than the far wall. As far away as possible, but close enough to monitor what was being told to us.
       They had a son who lived in Baltimore who had urged them for years to sell and come live with him, but they were not about to take his advice. Nor would they take ours. My man from Connecticut wanted to buy the farm and made a full or nearly full – memory fades – price cash offer (far more than I ever expected to get) but they weren’t sure if they should take it. Suppose it was worth more? And they definitely did not like the idea that this guy wasn’t going to milk cows here. And they were not sure if these were the kind of people they wanted owning their property either. My Connecticut man was no fool and saw that he was spinning his tires with these folks and went off to buy something else from someone who would sell. We lost him and lost the sale. That was not the only one this happened to. Some Amish wanted to buy it, and they were not the right people either, according to Hans and Murtha.
       Finally, we gave up in disgust, seeing that a pissed-off customer could bring about a lawsuit. You can’t discriminate against folks just because you don’t think they are “right” for your place. That doesn’t fly. The last I heard was that Hans finally died and Murtha is living there peacefully by herself. If you go up to the house, she will hide in an inner room. Even though the lights might be blazing, you will get no response when you knock on the door. The blinds are always drawn and the doors and windows are always shut and locked, habits from her days with Hans. She doesn’t drive. I have no idea how she gets food. She must trust someone enough to allow them to take her to the store. I have no idea who that would be. Or maybe the son from Baltimore comes up every few month and buys hundreds of dollars worth of food for her at a time. Anyhow, now she doesn’t have to live in fear that Hans is going to cheat her. That farm isn’t for sale either. Don’t bother asking. And the hay has not been cut either.

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