<![CDATA[vinyardschoice.com - Blog: R.E. Tales]]>Fri, 19 Jul 2024 10:22:07 -0400Weebly<![CDATA[Foreclosure Experience]]>Wed, 05 Jun 2024 17:23:22 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/foreclosure-experienceIn 2018 I sold a home to an unmarried couple, and held terms (I am too old to do that now, so have stopped the practice). The folks made the first 5 payments and no more. Payments were a hair above $900, which even then was not bad for a house like they got. After a year, maybe 2, I started a foreclosure. Not many lawyers will do this any more. There was just one local one who’d do it. In due time, we did a virtual appearance before the judge. The buyers said they were going to get a regular mortgage to pay me off. The judge agreed to hold things off for a couple of months while they did that. Think. Now, what bank is going to fund people who make no attempt to pay? Of course they are going to ask me about their payment history. And of course I would tell them the truth. And when the next date came around, of course they said they were still looking for a mortgage. So they got a few more months. This went on and on. Finally they did not even bother to appear, which finally pissed off the judge. So we could now go to the next step. Finally.  Things moved again, though very slowly, and last August the foreclosure was finally decided in my favor. But so far, the judge has not signed off on his ruling, which is the final step before it's official. I think my lawyer is afraid to piss off the judge by leaning him do his job.

Then I learn there is a lien on the place of 10 grand (unpaid rent from before my time). They had that when we started and my lawyer (a different one) failed to pick it up. So, now I have to pay that off to give clear title to anyone who buys it.

Finally they (father and son) left, She’d been gone a couple of years before, after an argument they had. Went to Montana…somewhere. No one would tell me where, so I was unable to serve papers on her. That made an another huge delay, in the beginning. In a new place, he was now wiling to be, in his words, “cooperative.”

So I asked my lawyer to draft a deed in lieu of foreclosure from them to me, along with other needed paperwork. They both agreed to sign (by now she’d returned to New York and I was again able to communicate with her). Since she did not want her ex to have any notion where she was living, we had to figure out a way to eliminate addresses on the paperwork. She met me, but did not sign then and there as I (foolishly) hoped. Some weeks later, she did sign and returned things to me. Then I called him to get his signature, but had to leave a message. He did not bother to return the call. Two weeks later, sShe called, checking on things. I explained that I was waiting on him. Grrr, she’d get his butt moving, she said.  She did too and 2 months after I started the deed in lieu of foreclosure mess, he signed. Very friendly now.

The following day I was at the lawyer's to have him look things over and to settle up with him. All was good, the papers properly executed, so I headed to the County Clerk to have the new deed filed. But they did not like the fact that she’d xeroxed the papers and the little “sign here” stick-ons were xeroxed with it. But they were nice and said they’d let this slide. Then the girl got her superior to look things over. Apparently the xeroxing  was not to her satisfaction as one page showed up twice, with the lower half x-ed out on one and the upper half on the other. Can’t have x-es, she said. Could I get that redone? If I had a mustache, both ends would have touched, I drooped so much as that request. She noticed. I explained how much trouble it had been to get this done the first time, so she got creative with Scotch tape. I just had to fill out the top part again; we’d retain the half with the signatures.

I asked if I could title this as we usually do, in our trust’s name. The front deck gal said “Sure”. But when the back desk gal saw that, she said we now had to completely redo the deed as it originally was in our names, not the trust's. Reluctantly, she agreed to let me white it out and rewrite it the way she wanted. So I paid them their $200 and was done. It was now mine again.

I marched across the hall to the County Treasurer to make sure taxes had been paid. Of course they weren’t. So another check was written, for well over $10000. Then they told me that did not include the most recent bill as they don't get sent over until June 1st. When I got home, I called the Town for their figures. Fortunately, someone was in who could answer for me. That is not always the case; these little Towns do not have full-time employees in their offices. For nearly $5000 more, the rest of the taxes could be up to date. Whoopee. This should be a lesson to anyone who fails to pay taxes on time. Their “little" charges add up very fast, they compound. Since no one from the town bugs you to pay taxes, many find it easy to put them out of their minds. Who wants to think about taxes anyhow? Let it go long enough that they simply take title to your home and sell it to someone who will pay taxes.

Anyway, it’s now ours again to fix up and sell again. Did I mention they had a fire? Not a bad one, but still it’s damage that must be repaired. I'd spent a day earlier picking up trash from the yard. What I could see. When I cut the grass, I found a lot more. The burnables, mostly limbs, are piled up in the garden to immolate once the State ban on fires is off. I figure that I have at least 9 cubic yards of stuff that I need to take to the dump. Along with 12 tires ($4.50 each to dispose of). I spent 2 hours today getting left-behind toys out of a closet. There were 2 full totes of toy trucks, car and tractors, all in good shape. And another full of Legos. And a smaller one with kid's DVDs and books and school stuff. And a brand-new, never-worn set of boots, buried under the piles of stuff. More totes and lots of shopping bags were filed with things I had neither time or patience to sort out. Among the detritus were thousands, many thousands, of tiny little balls, crayons, pencils, all things that could fit inside shot glasses. I really regretted not bringing a snow shovel to pick these things up with. It would have been so much faster.

Now, I know a major reason why he failed to pay both his mortgage and the taxes. He spent his money buying crap for his kid. So you know what I will be doing for the next few weeks. Cleaning up, making dump runs, remodeling, painting, getting things working again. The lot and location are top notch. The house will be beautiful again once we are done with it. We did it once, we can do it again.

<![CDATA[New Doors]]>Sun, 31 Dec 2023 16:40:31 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/new-doorsModern metal-clad doors normally have a wooden frame along the inside. This is what screws fasten into that in turn hold hinges, sweeps, and various things around the door knob. My kitchen door apparently does not have this and relies upon screws fastening directly into the metal skin alone, working like sheet metal screws do. So when the metal “skin” got too worn to hold them, one cannot just go with longer screws like you would if there was wood to penetrate, because what is behind the metal inside skin is styrofoam. Warm but totally lacking in structural ability.  So while my door opens and closes just fine (for now) and looks good enough, the screws that hold the plate around the latch do not hold and they work out. When they get far enough out, they bang into the striker and the door won’t close until they are pushed in again. It’s days are clearly numbered.

Additionally, I was also annoyed that there is some rust on the door. Not easily seen, it should not be there at all. Doors are sold with a primer on them (white or gray). Most often, folks mistake the primer for exterior paint and do not paint them, thereby allowing them to rust, over time. How soon that happens depends upon their exposure to weather. However, we painted our door immediately (red) and it has been repainted (green) since. With the porch around it, rain has never hits the door, nor has snow reached it. Yet, there is some rust. I have long realized that a good old wooden door (very expensive now), if cared for, will outlast metal. But fiberglass should outlast both of them. So, that’s what I bought. Even though my heart said “wood”, my wallet vetoed it for the modern solution.

I was surprised to discover my new fiberglass door is far heavier than the others I have handled in the past, probably double that of a wood door. An Amish guy helped me put the new door on my roof rack. I worried a bit about getting it off, but figured I could handle it since gravity was on my side. I backed up close to the house so I wouldn’t have to move it far. Concerned about scratching my car’s roof when it left the roof rack, I put a towel on the roof there, which protected the car well and allowed the door to slide easily. Too easily, it turned out. As it slid downhill off the back, it began to also slide to the passenger side. Where I wasn’t. I could not hold it back. My alternative would be to let it slide uncontrolled off the back and before it fell to the side. That’s a further fall and I couldn't risk it. Going in both directions at once, I could only control the back direction, not the side. It fell 3-4’ without any hindrance from me.

And snapped the frame into. Aghast, I saw that the frame was plastic, not the wood I’d expected. Note: not fiberglas, but plastic. Fiberglas has fibers that keep it from breaking easily into. Like wood does. Now, with the frame broken completely into, it no longer held the door securely in one place, so it kept flopping as I tried to drag it all into the home. Flopping too much would only break it further, so every foot I gained, I had to put it back together again, then drag things another foot to repeat the process. To move 18’ from the cars back into the home took that many minutes. Pissed at my misfortune and the difficulties it engendered, I took to opportunity to exercise the edges of may vocabulary.

Two people could have done this fairly easily. But if I had two people, there should have been no need for the towel; you'd just lift it off, turn it sideways, and walk inside. 2 minutes of grunting. The silver lining is that the new door itself is perfectly fine, completely unscathed. It was fiberglas (and glass).

Inside, I assessed the damage… And went looking for clamps. I must have 50 of them of various sizes and descriptions. But none of the rigid ones were long enough to clamp a 7’+ door frame, and my strap clamps fell way too short.  So off I went to find something that would work. For years, if I need a tool, I just buy one, figuring that if I needed it once, I'd need it again... eventually. So now I have a very nice strap clamp that will handle a 12’ door if I ever manage to break one that big.

I used smaller clamps as needed for other directions, exhausted my supply of epoxy (there was just enough, no more, no less - so at least one thing went right in this episode), and put screws in strategic spots. Then, as a finale, I installed two sections of steel strapping around the corner near the break. It will be as good as new and to a casual observer, it will look new too. We’ll install it tomorrow morning. Once in place, there will be no stress upon any of the (plastic) frame and all we will have left to do is, come spring, give it a coat of paint so it matches the rest of our doors. Be sure to examine it when you come in.

<![CDATA[Mark: Financially Astute?]]>Sat, 07 Oct 2023 15:23:39 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/mark-financially-astuteMark: Financially Astute?

I’d heard about Mark long before I had the chance to meet him. He’d been the DHIA (Diary Herd Improvement Ass’n) supervisor of farm friends of ours before they moved here from New Hampshire. They told me he’d be coming some time, wanting his own farm, so be on the lookout for him. Although he didn’t have a farm background they said had the drive and intelligence to be successful as a dairyman. This interested me as there were so many parallels to my own path in the dairy industry.

But he never called our firm, so I didn’t meet him. I did find out where he settled, not far away at all. So, years later, when I learned he wanted to sell, I was quick to get over there. What Mark had been doing was very unusual at that time. He had only a tiny investment in machinery and the farm wasn’t a particularly good one, with mediocre land, a barely OK home, and a single story barn that was cheaply built. What he did was purchase his feed and he used the land as a big pasture, rotationally grazed. These were practices preached by Cooperative Extension (remember them?) but not yet held in high esteem locally. But it worked for Mark. He had a 26000 lb. herd average. That is considered excellent today, but this was back in the ’80’s when even 20000 lb. herds were rare. His cows were grade Holsteins, perfectly functional, though not especially valuable, despite the high production. His extensive use of pasture seriously reduced the feed he’d need to buy. Most of what he bought was corn silage, which he fed year-round. He did buy some hay for off-season feeding, so the cows had a balanced diet year-round, one that, nutritionally, did not change all that much. It worked well for him. The barn inside was functional, with big enough stalls for large cows and a wide enough manger to easily maneuver a feed cart). The stalls were on the older side, but he kept them repaired as they broke. The barn had plywood siding, not pretty, but it kept out the elements just the same as nicer siding would do. There was a concrete bunker silo, his one improvement. He could get silage far cheaper in the fall, buying a year’s supply at once with the supplier not needing to go to the work and expense of storing his crop.

This was a guy who financially had his act together, so why did he want to sell? Well, it seems his farming practices left him with some time on his hands. He used that time at the computer, buying and selling stocks, and was making far more money at that than he could at farming. And he found it more fun, more exhilarating. Just think of how much he could make if he did not have to spend the time tending to his herd.

Each time I showed the farm, I’d stay behind afterward and we’d talk some. Often it was about stocks. At the time, I had a small portfolio but did not actively manage it; I let my broker make suggestions and would usually follow them, but it was mostly “wait and see” management, nothing proactive. At the time so many others were doing what Mark did and I felt kind of wistful, knowing I was missing out on all those profits. Every time I was there it seems Mark had made another $10000 in an astute trade.

My own philosophy has been to actively manage only the financial things in my life that I knew well and not to try to pretend that I knew more about some businesses than their executives did. But my resolve was weakening and each conversation with Mark and others like him showed me how wrong my approach was: I was missing out. Big time.

Well, we found Wally, a cash buyer for his farm and went into contact. The buyer was a recently single fellow from New Jersey, a man who’d always wanted to farm but could not do that and keep his wife happy. But now they were divorced, he could finally show her what he could do and begin to realize his dream.

Things progressed and finally we had a closing date set up. It had gone smoothly as both of them used the same lawyer.  Just before The Day, the attorney called Mark and me to say Wally had called and could not make it that day after all. OK, we set up a new closing date. When that day arrived, the same thing happened. So yet another day was scheduled. We were all in the office, waiting for Wally.. and waiting,,, and waiting.  He didn’t show. We finally left, not in a good mood. A few days later the attorney was able to reach Wally, listened to his excuse, and we scheduled yet another closing date. It was an encore. No show. Whereupon the lawyer fired Wally.

I later learned what was going on in New Jersey. Wally had never wanted to be divorced; it was his wife’s idea. He had always given her what she wanted and if she wanted a divorce, she’d get that too. Buying a farm was his way of showing her that he could be successful without her, that he had value. As the time neared for each closing, she’d call him up and make nice, offering hope that they could get back together. He wanted that more than he wanted to farm, so he’d blow off the closing. Then she’d get cold on him, he’d decide again to move, and when that date got near, he’d get another conciliatory call from her. How could anyone have predicted that this was going to happen?

So Mark was left with his farm, no more buyer, and months of time wasted. He had another problem, one of his own making. It seems that once we found Wally, he decided to cut his expenses and stopped breeding his cattle. No more insemination fees. He hadn’t told me about this while the deal was still alive. I was shocked that anyone would do this. While legal enough, it’s not honest. I’d sold many stocked and equipped farms before and not once had this happened. To save a few bucks for yourself, you end up screwing the buyer. Only Mark had screwed himself. Now he had a farm he was no longer interested in and his whole herd were all tail-enders. He’d doomed himself to low production for the better part of a year, all to save a few hundred bucks in breeding fees.

Another problem surfaced, a far bigger one. At the time, Lucent Technologies was a high-flying stock. It was formed as part of the Bell Telephone system regulatory split-up. Lucent was their technology sphere. I even had a few shares of it and every month the report get better and better. I’d been suggesting to my stock broker that maybe we ought to get more of it but he felt I had enough. Mark didn't need to use a stock broker, so didn’t incur the regular broker’s fees. Nor did he have that brake. He put nearly everything he had into Lucent. You can guess what was going to happen, and it did. Lucent crashed overnight. I lost a couple thousand, but Mark lost nearly everything he had, everything but the farm. And, having failed to keep the cattle bred, that was set to be unprofitable for the coming months. He took a job in a distribution center and stopped farming, using only the home. What else could he do?

Meanwhile, we still held the substantial downpayment Wally had made on the place. Probably to ashamed to face us after all that had (not) happened, Wally never asked for it back. Though we were entitled to a commission as we’d found a ready, able and willing buyer, his deposit wasn’t our money. Nor was it Mark’s. It just sat there… for months. I consulted the lawyer on what to do. He could tell me what to do but wouldn’t do it, not himself, as his practice avoided anything to do with courts. Hie said we had to sue Mark over it. That did not set well with us, but we could not take steps against Wally as it was Mark that was our client, not Wally.

So, eventually, we did it. Which brought about an outraged call from Mark. When I explained how it had to work, he calmed down, thank goodness, and agreed to sue Wally to get his deposit so he could pay us - and himself. In time, the legal process worked and Wally’s deposit was turned over to Mark, who then was able to give us our share ( which was far less than the commission would have been had the sale gone through).

We parted as friends, but circumstances no longer threw us together. It was some years before I met Mark again. It seems he’d been the successful bidder on a county tax foreclosure, one I’d also attended as a buyer. Fortunately I did not bid against him as the parcel he acquired was one that did not fit what I look for. I normally sit up front at these auctions and had not seen him behind me. I don’t bid against a friend if it can be helped. Mark showed me through his new home, which he’d been building mostly by himself. Though not exactly to my own taste, it was well done and had some expensive features, ones he’d managed to find at bargain prices and was able to incorporate in the home. I do the same thing with my own homes when I can. So he’d recovered from his losses, cut a completely new path for his family, and was happy in the new situation.

<![CDATA[Changes]]>Fri, 29 Sep 2023 00:58:30 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/changesWith over 40 years (and counting) in the business, you might expect I have witnessed many changes. When I started, around the change of the year from 1980 to ’81, I was part of a going business with a number of other agents. We were active in quite a few counties and I had over 100 listings to work with. And did I ever work! By the end of the year, I had driven 40000 miles and probably averaged 40 hours a week in real estate. Farming took up the time that could have been called “spare”. I had well over 100 acres to crop and we were getting ready to start milking again. “Getting ready” means I was feeding heifers and not getting a milk check; the money as flowing out pretty fast. My real estate earnings for that year? $1364, one pitiful sale. The sensible thing to do would have been to give up and do something that paid better. But I remained stubborn - as I discovered I really liked working with people once again, finding them a compromise between what they wanted and what they needed or could afford.

So I sold my best hay to make ends meet and, later on, when those heifers calved and began milking, I paid again. Although big enough and heavy enough to do better, the poorer feed I had kept meant they were only milking 50 pounds. But at least cash was flowing and by the time the second group of heifers calved, I typically got 70 pounds - and most of the first group had been culled.

The largest portion of my customers were dairymen then. They’d meet me at my farm sometime after chores were over and we’d take long rides in beautiful countryside, looking at farms. Having them meet me at my farm instantly established my credentials as someone who was not only a real estate agent, but someone who knew farms, cows, crops and machinery. It worked out well: when I was busiest with my crops, so were they, so there was not the conflict there’d be if I were trying to do the same thing today.

Subsequent years went up and down in my income, but at least I found enough to live on. And I had milk checks coming so, between the two, I managed to have better machinery than would be expected for a farm of my size, which meant I could get crops harvested quicker and help more people with the time I’d saved. It worked out.

We’d take off at l say, 10AM, visit several farms and I‘d be home for chores. Once a couple came out from Wisconsin and wanted to see as many places as I could cram in. We saw 15 dairy farms that day and by noon, their eyes were starting to glaze over as their minds went into overload and began to shut down. It’s not like looking at houses; there so much more to take in and absorb. After that day, I imposed a 5 farm limit as Id discovered most buyers could handle up to that amount and manage to keep things fairly straight in their heads.

Typically, they‘d arrive and pile in my car and off we’d go to look at a number of places. Sometimes, I’d ride with them. I like doing this as we get to know each other better. The better I know you, the better job I can do for you. And it gave the buyers hours to ask questions of me and pick my mind to get a good sense of what their life here might be like for them. And it would build up their trust of me.

Many of my buyers were from Connecticut. I’d come to New York from Connecticut where I’d worked 5 years as a Dairy Herd Association Supervisor. The title was far more imposing than the job was, but I often knew some of the same people that they did, which helped to establish a better rapport. We also got quite a few dairymen from Massachusetts and the lower Hudson Valley as well as a smaller spattering from other places. Today, any southern New Englander is surprisingly rare and I go months and months without a call from an actual dairyman. I still see Hudson Valley folks and now quite more of the  New Yorkers hail from the Big City and Long Island as well as from Pennsylvania, which was surprisingly uncommon back in the early ’80’s.

Today,  we also see more from all over the rest of the US, thanks to the internet.  Ethnic buyers comprise a much greater share than they used to. I think they are becoming more successful as time goes on, and are better able to take the kind of steps many have always hoped to take. They were something of a rarity back then. Things are different today in so many ways. The Internet has allowed us to reach anyone who searches for us, anywhere in the world. Back then, you could not afford to advertise everywhere. We had to confine ourselves to agriculture newspapers and Pennysaver type periodicals in the right suburbs. Today many of those sources are gone, caput, and I have finally mostly abandoned print ads in favor of internet ones.

Another manifestation of the changes in the kind of buyers I see has come from the increased ability to work remotely. Now you can live where you want but still have a good job. You can have city wages and live in the country where things are cheaper. That’s a huge benefit to those that want it.

So I see few dairymen anymore - who then do I see? I see many hobby farmers, folks interested in alternative agriculture, either for part of full-time. When I started, people such as this didn't come along often. I see early retirees, people embarking in new directions with a second marriage, ethnic folks, even some blacks, which is a bit surprising as the ones living closest to us did not spring from a heritage of share-cropping. They are middle class folks with the same aspirations for a quieter, less-hurried life that other middle class people have.

One group I see FAR more of now are Amish. The first Amish moved in our area about the same time I did. They were all very conservative Old Order families and did not like to deal with real estate agents if it could be avoided. Though they were too polite to come out and say it, I sensed they did not believe working for a commission was a thing they could ever approve of. Today, I enjoy a great relationship with these good people. They call me for advice as well as to find or sell properties. Things have changed for them too.

In recent years we have seen a great influx of less conservative Amish, along with Mennonites. These groups do not go out of their way to mix and interact with the original Amish and they do not inhabit the same space, meaning they are not neighbors. So far. The less-conservative ones are more aggressive in their life-styles and are rapidly filling in the areas the Old Order do not already inhabit. Since both groups have large families by our standards, their need for additional land grows rather fast with each generation and I can predict eventually they will need to live side by side and take their livelihoods in directions never contemplated a generation ago. The new arrivals do a lot of that now, living on smaller acreages, often not working farms, and taking non-farming jobs. But still working with their hands. And using cell phones and, occasionally, computers.

The sellers have changed too. Originally, a large part of my business was working for retiring dairymen. I’d see these older folks who’d farmed all their lives and now needed to liquidate their business in order to retire. (They get no pensions - that much still has not changed.) Couples who’d been married for decades, often scrupulously honest. What they said was the way it was. Period. Now their children are retiring and I don’t witness quite the same kind of honesty. That does not mean dishonest, no, no, no. But they are able to assess more complex situations than their folks did. They tend to be better businessmen, less loyal to those who have earned their trust.

When I started, our little county had 420 farms shipping milk. 40 cow farms were common and anything with 100 cows was considered large. Now large is probably 200 cows and up and 70 and 80 is considered small by many. We even have several 1000+ cow farms among the 155 that are left. The amount of milk shipped is probably equivalent as while the number of farms has decreased, the number of cows  per farm and their individual production has climbed. Were it not for the Amish, these figures would be far different as their scale of operation is much smaller than average. During this time, the number of small alternative farms has climbed steadily and at an increasing rate of gain, spurred by wider spread interest in organic and unusual and niche foods and beverages.

What has happened is while the average farm has increased dramatically in size and scope of business, the size of the average farm on the market has dropped just as dramatically. When I began, a third of my farms were over 200 acres in size, a small few over 300 acres and once in a while we’d have one or two at 500 acres and up. Most buyers then wouldn’t even consider anything less than 100 acres - even if they didn’t intend to farm it themselves. Today, I don’t have a single one over 100 acres at the moment. The last 200 acre one we had was a year ago. I barely remember the last one at 300 acres. We would have 10 or 20 operating dairies when I started. There were always a certain  number of buyers for stocked and equipped farms.  Now I am lucky to find one that, with work, could be even operated again.  Finding one with cattle and equipment still there, you can basically forget that. And so have the buyers; they’ve forgotten that.

There are at least two things which I think are behind this. The large farms got large by taking on debt. Extension agents preached that debt was just another tool to use, and folks listened. Now with large debt loads, they can’t afford to call it quits; they have to stay in it for the long run. The many farms that were not well run are mostly long gone now, especially on the more marginal land. Farm children are exposed to more and more new things, in school, at college, on the internet, and they more fully understand than the generation before them did just how hard it is to make a dollar farming. Many want more than that out of their lives and the ones that stick with it or start new are doing so for lifestyle reasons, not economic ones. I have always said that of a family who can make money farming, and many do, they are the sort of people who can make money doing other things as well. The opposite is not necessarily true.

When I started, there were several large firms who make their livings as cattle auctioneers. These are all but gone now and the couple that are left depend upon machinery auctions to keep their business afloat. Forty years ago, on any given Spring weekend, there would be several dairy dispersals and there were always a few scattered around the State each week during the rest of the year. No more. I can’t even recall the last local dairy dispersal auction. Too bad; they were fun to attend and you got to learn a lot. And they were a time to visit with farming friends you saw all too infrequently.

As might be expected, prices have changed, just like everything else. When I started, upstate New York had bargain land prices, say $400/acre for prime tillable land, while other states were far higher. Now, we are probably $2000/acre for the same land - if you can find it. Woodland went from $100/acre to, now, nearly the same price as good tillable land. (We are talking about land in quantity, wholesale figures so to speak, large chunks. Smaller pieces always sell more dearly, like in retail.) What hasn’t changed is that we are still a bargain compared to other states. They went up too. Maybe there are a couple of states that we’ve crept up on, but it won’t be many.

Which is good as our commission rates have not changed upwards. Actually they are probably lower now. Since a rising tide floats all boats, our ability to earn a viable livelihood has remained mostly unchanged. If you are good at what you do and work hard at it, you can earn a reasonable living. But you won’t get rich.

When I mention our rates are lower now, there are two things at play. One, I have a policy of asking 5% to anyone who has bought their place though us, reasoning that I made a profit before and do not need so much for a second helping. And I offer the same rate to Amish and Mennonites, figuring that they are probably going to try to bargain me down anyhow and that since they all talk among themselves, I want them to be saying that Vinyard gave them a good deal. The other thing is that 40 years ago, most of our listings were “Open” listings, ones shared by another firm or two, with a winner take all. Since we ran the risk of spending our money and time and getting nothing if another firm should make the sale, we asked for 10% and usually got it. I still offer these kind of terms, but find sellers now expect to select only one company to represent them. Partly, this is due to the competition’s nearly complete refusal to work on anything other than an exclusive listing, the one I do for 6%. Sellers have never heard of open listings and always seem to prefer the cheaper alternative.  Which is fine with me.

This nearly exclusive use of Exclusives today means there are less properties to go around to the various firms since now none of us work on the same place a competitor does. The only way a competitor can work with one of my places is to co-broke (and vice versa) and a lot more of that is done by us now than when I started. That 100 farm figure that I started with 40 years ago slowly dged down to 30 during the last 10-15 years, partly because there is greater competition now, but mostly due to the near total lack of Opens. I should interject a bit about competition here. I have stated my commission policies, which is fine. But, please realize that each firm is free to establish their own rates, higher or lower, however they wish. The State does not regulate what any of us charge, but they sure watch to make sure none of us collaborate to fix rates among ourselves. It’s a topic I make sure to not discuss with other agents.

There are two big and comparatively recent changes that have had pronounced effects upon the country real estate market. The net effect was to raise prices in ways we’d not seen before and also to lower the supply - also in ways we could not have foreseen 10 years earlier. This put additional upwards pressure on prices.

1) Alternative Energy. Mostly solar, I have worked with perhaps 30 different firms now and think a big shakeout and consolidation is overdue. Their representative are everywhere, like flies on summer cow patties. They contact many owners directly (no commission !!!) but are happy to work with us as well. While they all differ on exactly what they want, there are similarities. Most prefer to rent, but will buy if need be. Renting means their cash can be conserved and the high rental payments they promise can be made from cash flow, not from the kitty. My concern is what happens to the owner if they go belly up. And what are you supposed to do with the panels if they are not going to be used?  There may be big time environmental concerns left in the owners lap, along with a significant cost to remove them and make the land agriculturally productive again. One similarity is these firms all use the carrot and stick approach, offering huge potential returns to the landowner…. just not right now. They have many hoops to jump through, expensive ones, some of them, and they are not about to give you big money only to find the State or some local agency will not allow their project. After they run the regulatory gauntlet, usually a three year process, then you get the big money. IF they decide to actually do the project. In most cases, they decide against it and while you did get some return from them, it was not nearly what you’d envisioned. The active presence of these firms has caused prices to edge comparatively steeply upwards.

2) COVID. None of us saw this coming. It precipitated big changes in the farm real estate market just as it did elsewhere. All at once, nobody came. Phones were quiet at first. We couldn’t go out looking for listings. There was greater dependency on phone, websites, and email. And it was much harder to establish rapport with those we worked with. No more formal closings, and less personal interaction made the job less rewarding to me. It’s not only money that keeps me at it. In general, we found that suddenly it was a Hell of a way to try to do business.

But more people were working from home. The cork was out of that bottle and will never go all the way back in. Fewer persons have to live near their job, so that increased business in less populated and less expensive areas. Interest rates were way down, making better property more affordable to everyone. There was every reason to make the move you’d dreamed of. So demand jumped.

This led to higher prices, lower supply. We sold a lot of property that we’d had listed for too long without much action and our inventory lowered. Right now I am at 20% of what has been normal in the past. The percentage of inventory that is in contract is up. What do I do when they are all sold? Retire? My wife would like that. Now, with country-wide inflation that we have not witnessed in decades, the market remains hot, despite what you may see in the news. Remember, what always makes the news is about the housing market, not the comparatively minuscule farm market. What you read may pertain to us - or it may not. There is much handwringing in the papers about our 7% interest rates now. I am happy enough about this. Why? Well, for one thing, it gives the banks an incentive to loan, which they sure did not enjoy when the rates were half of that. Credit should loosen some. And, think about it: 7% is about average for the past 30 years. Those low rates were easy and fast to get used to, but actually were a fairly recent and comparatively short-lived phenomena. You go back 40 years when I bought my second farm and what were the rates then? 12-18%. And you think 7% is high? Hah!

Lastly, interest rates don’t matter much if you are paying cash. Cash customers, always more common in my business than with those that sell homes, have the same incentive to buy now that they did at the onset of COVID. What banks charge for interest means little to them and until the figure that banks and companies that issue stock pay goes up seriously, real estate remains a more attractive investment, one that you can use and enjoy and not just look up on the computer to worry about what it is doing today.

After more than 40 years, you might think I have seen it all. No, I haven’t. That’s one of the things that fascinates me about this business.
<![CDATA[Beating Up the Seller]]>Sun, 03 Sep 2023 16:04:10 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/beating-up-the-sellerInspections, a two-edged sword. It used to be buyers relied upon their judgement and observations as well as their due diligence (if they did any). I do not normally go out of my way to mention a physical failing on the home or property, but then my buyers are not quite representative of the public; they tend to be more knowledgeable about building. If for instance there is a marginal good roof on a home, I do not feel an obligation to point this out. Not unless I felt the buyer really was unable to tell the difference between worn-out and newer shingles. Then I call it to their attention. An exception to my rule of thumb would be a defect that no one could see. I encountered, for the first time, lead pipes in a property that we currently have for sale. But the pipes were not in the home, but instead in the line from the well to the home, buried, where no one could ever see them until they dug them up. Fortunately, the owner is scrupulously honest and mentioned this to me; otherwise I’d have never known. If I can't tell, the buyers can’t either. So I made sure to mention this in every ad and any information given to prospective buyers.

As we get further and further “advanced” in our civilization, buyers are less and less likely to know so much about building, less able to detect for themselves defects that might have been obvious to their grandfathers. So third party inspections have increasing importance. Banks have long recognized this and began requiring inspections to satisfy themselves that the property they were asked to mortgage did not have unforeseen structural or other difficulties. That’s for homes.

On farms it is different and the buyer is sort of assumed to have a higher level of awareness of these kind of problems. If you are going to run a farm, you had better know enough to tell when a roof is nearing the end of its life. An example that is not well-known in the industry - farm buyers are not required by the State to sign the ubiquitous agency disclosure as they are assumed to know enough to understand these things. Lenders who specialize in farm lending will look at the total package and concentrate less on this kind of minutia. But for house buyers, these things assume greater importance so inspection clauses have now become normal and expected.

What are inspection clauses? Basically, they are a contingency which allows the buyer to have someone (usually hired by the buyer and licensed by the State) who supposedly knows and understands the problems that buildings can have. This person, working within a limited time frame, gives their assessment of a variety of potential issues: water quality and quantify, the function of waste disposal systems, the structural integrity of the home, electrical, heat and plumbing systems. They may inspect for insect damage and take samples to determine if radon gas is present. The buyer gets to choose which things they wish to have inspected or tested and the seller is permitted to refuse to accept any of these, which probably will mean his sale just grew wings to quickly fly away, Or the buyer will assume he is trying to hide something. If you think that of someone, it is best to back away from the sale. While I hate to have to deal with inspections as they just complicate the sale and lessen the chance that there will be a closing, I never deny such requests. The buyer has every right to determine the condition of what he is buying. If the buyer is unusually naive about such things or is trying to buy sight-unseen (always a dumb idea), I will probably suggest third party inspection.

The wording on such contingencies can never be specific enough as in real like, they are fire with gray areas, but generally it is stated that if certain standards are not met, the buyer has the right to withdraw from the contract without penalty. Usually there is a dollar figure used: if the expected cost of remediation is less than, say $1500, the sale can go on as planned. If over this figure, the buyer can back out. Or the seller can take care of the problem on his dollar, not the buyer’s. Since the closing date is looming nearer and nearer when these issues from to the front, most often the seller is willing to take a hit to keep the sale moving forward. And since his family is living there and did not notice problems or feel a need to make corrections, they may be initially hostile to the idea of taking a lower price than agreed-upon. But cooler heads usually prevail and they usually decide to just do with less money rather than to lose their buyer and start the process of selling all over again, only to run into the same problem with the next buyer.

I am into process of selling a 200 year old home, one I own, to a buyer who has never seen it. The home is as nice as I can make it without going crazy and rendering it overpriced for the area. They hired an inspector on their own rather than use one suggested by me or their own agent, then based upon his observations, then hired a contractor to look at a dip in the roof (one which I can document has been there, unchanged, for decades). The contractor gave a green light on this but mentioned the age of the roof (now approaching in 5 or so years the end of its expected life), hoping to get that business in the near future. OK, fair enough. Too often contractors, in my experience, give an alarming report, thinking an out-of-the-area buyer will hire them at an inflated price to make the correction. But what happens when they do this, is the buyer gives up on the sale and you now have a pissed-off homeowner who’ll remember and won’t deal with him in the future. So nobody gets what they initially wanted.

This buyer then called an electrician to examine something the inspector noted. That was an interesting experience. This time, the electrician happened to be someone I know and have dealt with before, and he pulled no punches, coming right out and saying that if he knew he was just inspecting something for a buyer, not a home owner, he would not have come. Too often he has done this, told the buyer what he felt, only to have the buyer use that as leverage on the seller to lower the price - only to find that once they move in they never have the work done anyhow. So, in these situations he charges extra for his inspection service, telling them they can get back the extra money by hiring him to correct it. In my case, he also said if it were his home, he’d leave it alone as it would never cause difficulties.

A day or two later, they had a mason look at the laid stones walls of the basement to examine “cracks” the inspector had noted. Of course there are cracks, there was a crack between every single stone when they were laid in the 1820s and each one is still there today. The mason basically said while there was nothing structural to get worried about, he could parge the walls (cover with cement, forcing it into cracks as he is able) and it would look nice and smooth, more attractive. They would gain a small structural advantage as well as the obviously aesthetic one.

We have not heard from the buyer what their reaction to these 3 extra inspections is. Maybe they will be honest and direct us to go ahead. Or maybe they will try to use this as a wedge to end up with a lower price. However, they may end up disappointed if they try that tact. I don’t play that game. If I feel something he spotted actually needs correction, I’ll do it on my dime and not ask for more, but I won’t drop the price we’d agreed-upon. If they initially liked it enough to pay my price, that’s what I expect them to pay. If they wish to nickel and dime me to gain a few thousand, they had better start to search for another property.

This nickel and diming after buyer and seller had agreed on one figure is increasingly common. When a buyer begins playing this game, the seller has little recourse other than to lose the sale and hope the next buyer is actually OK with the home as it is. Every old home has problems, just like old people do - only they last a lot longer than we do. Any inspector can find something to complain about and they do, if only to show the buyer that they are working for them. They are also usually aware that if they are not reasonable in their recommendations, they won’t get referrals from agents.

We once had the “Inspector from Hell” out, a man from out of the area who was famous among agents as he did not like any home more than a few years old. The one he looked at this time had a steel roof. That was completely unacceptable to him. Shingles are the only thing he liked. (Me, I prefer steel as it far outlasts shingles.) He went on and on, one thing after another.  By the time he was done, the homeowner was nearly in tears and the buyer was so frightened she immediately withdrew from the contract and returned to California. Two weeks later, for another buyer, we had a different inspector there, one who acknowledged that, yes, it was an old home, but went right on to say it was in better than normal condition for one of that age, an assessment I agreed with. And that sale went through.

Sometimes, not often, it is the attorney who causes the problem. There was a Long Island attorney named MacNamara who examined the inspection document (usually they don’t bother to even look at them) and, as attorneys do, started finding fault after fault, getting increasingly agitated. He did not beat around the bush, but told me right out that when he was done, the owner would have $20000 less money than agreed upon in the contract and I’d have half of the commission I expected. Then he started swearing. I’d been doing a lot of listening, not saying much, but that’s when I hung up. Needless to say there was no sale. MacNamara knew the buyers were in financial difficulty, though they’d never missed any payments (yet) and he knew their equity was slightly above $20000; he clearly intended the sellers to walk away without a cent, with just their good name intact, all they’d worked for lost.

Fortunately, most buyers are not like this. I found it interesting that during the COVID-induced flurry of sales, a rare (for us) “sellers market”, that suddenly buyers were not asking for inspection contingencies like they used to. When both parties remain reasonable in their exceptions, we can then broker sales, bring about a “meeting of the minds”. It takes two to tango and when we have them, we can dance.
<![CDATA[The Farming Business]]>Mon, 24 Jul 2023 23:45:43 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/the-farming-businessIt used to be farmers could make out financially without being businessmen, it could be strictly a lifestyle choice. Those days are long gone and most of the farmers that survived that way are also long gone too. Not everyone is cut out to be both and if you are strictly a businessman, why would you be attracted to farming? I say this having known quite a few who were. Two come to mind, as the extremes.

One was a fellow who bought a farm suitable for playing on, sold it for a commercial one, then added land. He lost his shirt, then regrouped with what was left on another place, one better suited for playing. A bit later he called me in to consult about going commercial there. I ran the figures with him then recommended he NOT do that. But he did, and ended up selling that farm and living out his life there in a life estate in a 10x30’ “home”. A former banker, then energy dealer, he was business-like about every wrong decision he made. He told me he blew a cool million in 10–15 years (and had fun doing it).

The other fellow, who was richer,  having sold magazine subscriptions with a cadre of door to door salesmen, got bit by the bug of registered Holsteins and embryo transplant. This was my suggestion, as he was looking both for a farm and for a farming enterprise he could get excited about. 5 years later, he sold out. Why? He had accomplished each and every goal he set out to do. Afterward, they regretted selling as they realized how much they’d come to like the lifestyle as well. He had the unique ability to get good workers, ones who would happily work their butts off for him. These people were both well-rewarded financially and obviously appreciated by him and this ability really paid off for him.

I learned a lot from both men and was proud to call both my friends. One thing I learned from the first guy were things NOT to do. From the other, I realized I didn’t have his ability with workers and never would - and that it would be best for me not to even try to duplicate that.]]>
<![CDATA[Solar Farms]]>Wed, 15 Mar 2023 14:41:51 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/solar-farmsFor the last several years, I have seen solar developers fairly regularly, enough of them that I've lost count; there must be at least 20 if not 25 of them who have approached me. And they all seem to want somewhat different things: three phase power, proximity to substations, southern exposure, hidden from view, on main roads, open land, back roads... it's a long list and which of these things are desired varies with each company.

But there are similarities. Here's what most tell me: they identify the property of interest  to them, then try to get it locked in on some sort of lease or long term purchase agreement while they do their due diligence. The first year of this process does not require them to be on the land as they are dealing with the power company, local officials and the State, making sure it will fly - from their perspective. Then studies are done about endangered species, historical or archeological sites, all that sort of thing. Then, they survey it. Their upfront behind-the-scenes costs are far greater than the purchase price. Given bureaucratic lethargy, it takes 2-3 years to do all this.

So they offer owners an ascending series of incentives, ones which can be quite attractive. Typically, they use a carrot and stick approach, with huge rewards promised at the end, but only small ones, incrementally larger with the passage of time, before then. The further we go in the process, the greater their commitment to the owner. But they nearly always retain the right to back out in one way or another.  I have not seen statistics and as this type of thing is in its infancy in our area, there probably aren't statistics out there yet, but my guess is that most of these contemplated projects will never get completed. But some do and I think that over the next several years we are going to see quite a few more in service. There is too much money out there for that not to happen.

As a landowner, my concerns would first be about the time it takes and whether the reward was great enough to warrent the risk of it not coming to fruition. These may be things we can dicker about. They all offer the terms that appeal most to them, naturally enough, but often seem willing to bend to the demands and requirements of the landowner, especially if they really want the property. Most of them will offer full price, assuming it's a sale the owner hopes for, which would be most often the case in the deals with which I become involved. I am aware that some have offered well above asking price to get the owner's consent. Often they prefer to rent. They will pay highly for this. And make it richly rewarding (on paper at least) for the actual land-owner.

One of my personal caveats in investing is to stick to something you know. If you have only cursory knowledge of a potential investment, you may bet the people on the other side know a whole lot more and you can also bet that they are looking out for #1, and that may or may not include you. Solar developers may not always be huge Wall Street listed firms, but their pockets are far deeper than your own. So is their experience. So if you want advice, who do you go to? One of my clients began looking for attorneys who have expertise in solar and wind development. Guess what they found? There were quite a few, and in nearly every case, they were already employed by solar developers. Your local attorney cannot be expected to be an expert in such cases, though they are gaining experience.

So, say you get past the fat contracts offered by solar developers and are satisfied that the deal makes sense for you and decide to go ahead with it. I am going to interrupt myself for a second: by "fat", I mean it in more than one sense. Their contracts are very involved and take up many pages. They may come in stages too. Lots to read and hopefuly understand. .And they are "fat" in the sense that a lot of money is involved, for you, and for them. OK, got that out of my system. Now back to the regular programming.

I have other concerns. First, as their project would be visible to the public, a public outcry would not come as a surprise. It has happened elsewhere. We all like the idea of free electricity from the sun but do not discount the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) factor. It's real, and it's common. I once had dinner with an environmental writer, who was in favor of all sort of environmentally friendly things and waxed eloquently about them. Then a minute later, he was raving about the possibility of wind towers being raised within the sight line of his home. These guys are your neighbors.

Secondly, there are a lot of these firms out there. Some are going to get swallowed by larger firms. Some will go belly up. It happens in other businesses, so expect it to happen here. In my short time involvement, I have seen this happen. They employ point men, who forge relationships with you. Then maybe he takes another job. There was a firm who employed me to find the right place for their huge project. We all had to sign a document for this. Then, when I found it, they  would not even acknowledge my letters. Technology changes rapidly and we don't know where it will lead.  What happens if they suddenly become unprofitable? How will you feel if they are raking in gadzillions and you only got a few hundred thousand?

Also political changes are another concern. We can't predict what Congress, State legislatures and local officials will do. In today's political environment, all we can be sure of is neither side wants to cooperate with the other. Where might that leave you?

These solar collectors have expected lifetimes; what happens then? Who is responsible for remediation if that is ever needed?  Are they bonded? Is money set aside in escrow for the eventual dismantling of the project? (Probably not.)  If they rent from you, you may be getting the big sums they promised, but what happens when the lease is over? Is it all on you if they are no longer in business? Of course if they actually buy your land, all that becomes their problem, not yours. You got a nice lump sum. Yes, you missed out on the big regular payments, but missed most of the worry and potential liability.

Lastly, remember "there is no free lunch". Our country, the world, is pushing us toward renewable energy. And that's good - but don't ignore the cost. Solar farms are not pretty and they change our landscape, interfere with our views. They take land out of production, land that might produce food.  Wind farms are less objectionable from an aesthetic standpoint, but they can be seen for many miles. Nationwide, much more power is generated by hydroelectric, which means dams and flooding valleys - places where people could live or food could be produced. The second highest source of electric generation is by coal, the very product we are trying to avoid. The US has the world's greatest deposits of coal, especially so if you include lignin. Are we to abandon this resource? Maybe. Power lines must be built to handle the extra energy flow. They take up space too, crossing formerly private land (which might have once been your own - how do you like that idea?) and they are not exactly things of beauty. There are some nasty chemicals used in the manufacture of solar panels. What about them? When you start thinking, the list grows.

On the long range positive side is the fact that if enough power was harvested from the sun, global warming would necessarily lessen. None of this would matter if the world's human population was far smaller. In my life, it has doubled roughly twice and scientists who study this sort of thing have real worry how we are going to find food enough to feed the even greater number predicted to be around in 2-3 more decades. It makes me wonder what we are doing to our grandchildren.
<![CDATA[Moving Due to Climate Change - guest blog by Larry Waters]]>Tue, 14 Feb 2023 13:45:17 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/moving-due-to-climate-change-guest-blog-by-larry-watersMoving Due to Climate Change? Here’s How Remote Workers Can Do It Right
Climate change is causing increasingly extreme weather events and other environmental changes across the planet. For remote workers, this may mean that their current location is no longer suitable or safe. If you are considering relocating due to climate-change-related events, here are some tips from The Bard Rocks for making the move.

Research Potential Locations
Research potential new locations and find out about their climate and environment before committing to a move. Consider the history of natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, and droughts in the area. In addition, research average temperatures and the likelihood of experiencing both sunny days and storms in each season. This data can be helpful when deciding on a place to live.

Analyze the Cost of Living
Look into cost of living factors such as housing prices, transportation expenses, grocery costs, and monthly utility bills so that you can compare costs between locations before deciding where to relocate. You'll want to ensure that the added cost won't put too much strain on your budget after accounting for moving expenses, as well as your day-to-day living expenses, once you're settled in your new home.

Network With Current Residents
Reach out to people who already live in your target location and get first-hand information about life there. Ask questions about how climate affects everyday life there. What extreme weather events have been experienced recently? Are there certain times of the year when it's particularly wet or dry? Networking with current residents will help you gain invaluable insights into what living there would be like.

Connect With Other Remote Workers

If you're facing the difficult decision of uprooting your life to escape a worsening environment, seek out other remote workers who have done it before. With their advice and support, you can minimize any losses on both financial and momentum fronts as you make this critical transition from one place to another. Don't do it alone — learn from those with experience.

Look for Energy-Efficient Homes

When looking for a new home in a more climate-conscious region, take note of appliances used by homeowners and landlords alike. Look for energy-efficient features such as solar panels or air source heat pumps that reduce carbon emissions significantly while still providing enough power for everyday use. These appliances often come with significant energy savings over time compared to traditional systems powered by fossil fuels, which could help offset any additional costs associated with relocating.

Using Natural Cleaning Products In Your Home

To create a healthier and more sustainable home, choose environmentally conscious cleaning products over toxic chemicals found in most stores. While it may seem like a small action to take when settling into your new abode, using natural cleaners is an important step towards helping combat global warming, inspiring those around us to do their part as well.

Start Your Own Business as an LLC

Remote working is undoubtedly on the rise, and an increasing number of remote workers are even considering making big changes. If you're in the mindset of undergoing a transition like this, it may be worth looking into starting your own business as an LLC or a limited liability company. It's easier than ever to file for an LLC with the cheapest LLC filing service by BestLLCServices.com, which hardly costs anything and can take your business in exciting new directions. They make it simple to get up and running quickly so you can start seeing results straight away.

If you're a remote worker ready to relocate due to climate change, we've got your back. Vet potential locations by considering local weather conditions and chatting up current residents for firsthand insights. And when it comes time to find homes, look for energy efficiency so that utility costs won't break the bank. All these results in easy sailing on your journey toward home sweet home.

                                                                                ~~~~~ Larry Waters

<![CDATA[Changes in Our Society]]>Sun, 12 Feb 2023 00:35:56 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/changes-in-our-society
For a long while now, I have not been proud of what our generation is leaving to yours. But have wondered if that is not something that generations before me have thought as well. And maybe ones after me will feel the same. Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, my own observations are that as they age, folks tend to get more conservative. This is not just in politics, which scientists study, but in the general outlook on life, and that encompasses a whole lot more than politics. It's about change and the rate of change. You can be conservative and liberal at the same time. I tend to be fiscally conservative, socially  moderate to liberal, moderate in my clothing, liberal in my eating habits, both liberal and conservative on environmental issues (depending upon what they are: remember there’s a relationship between “conservation” and “conservative”), conservative to moderate in my adoption of technology…. And I feel the word “radical” can apply to both Left and Right.

Our generation was different than those before, and those after. “Different" does not mean “better”, though it could, but I am not using the word that way. Nowadays people like to assign names to generations and assume each one has certain characteristics, which, while overly simplistic, makes it easy to grasp without having to think too deeply. Before our time, that didn’t happen. People my age were rebellious as young adults and took up causes in numbers never seen before: free love and openness about sex, drugs, certain music (folk and rock), weird clothing, Left causes, wide-spread outdoor non-competitive sports, civil rights, environmentalism (that was not a commonly used word before our time), opposition to war (our country had never before experienced such widespread opposition to war; always before its had been tiny fringe groups),opposition to things previous generations had stood for (such as working for a corporation) along with a large dose of innocence about the change we wanted society to make. We were idealistic in number that had never been seen before. We were, stupidly sometimes,  more concerned about living a complete life than earning a living. As naive as this was, we did make changes in society. But not nearly as many as we thought we’d make. Our parents did not like many of these changes either. But with time, everyone adapts. This is how come you see many folks still living happily and peacefully in some totalitarian countries (a good subject for another treatise).

Our generation was  born on the cusp of many things. We did not share our forefather's experience of the Depression and 2 World Wars (wars which were well-supported at home). We had more money than previous generations and took it more for granted (thanks, parents); it was not a subject of great worry for most of us. We had freedom to be our own selves, whatever we thought that was at the time. My generation was forgiving about gay life and allowed it to surface. This has reached silly proportions now. Today you see this carried forward in confused teens thinking they are supposed to be a different sex than they are. Assigned roles for our children give them structure, which people need to a larger extent this younger they are. 

The operative word throughout this is, I think, “change”. Today this is carried forward especially fast in the technical world. I can't keep up with it and my parent's generation would have been helpless. We are being led in directions that are simultaneously exciting and fearsome. We are being freed and chained at the same time.

One of the really big things behind all this is population growth, the huge downside of which tends to be ignored today. It’s a doubled-edged sword. One one hand we need more people to do the work and pay the taxes. And on the other, the more of us there are, the harder each thing becomes. Since I was born, the US’s population has doubled - twice. Probably similar in most countries. Yet the world has the same natural resources which are being replenished at the same rate, but they are now being used increasingly faster. Malthus' prediction is still essentially correct, even though it gets put back time and time again. Eventually, widespread starvation will result, unless of course there is a mass kill-off of humans. This is a scenario I can now envision without straining the limits of imagination.  

I remember in the 60-70s there were widespread demonstrations about civil rights, the war, and other big issues. Our county had not seen anything like this before. I noticed at the time every one took place in cities. And in the warmer months. There are practical and explainable reasons for this of course… but still…. What happens when you overcrowd, say, mice? They begin fighting among themselves. I thought of that during those demonstrations and riots.

One of the good - and necessary - features of technology is finding out ways to handle larger and larger numbers of people without adding employees. Instead of personal service, we get “personalized” service, then chat boxes which purport to be human, then ones who don't even attempt that masquerade. Instead of someone showing you how to do something, there's a video on U-Tube to watch. Instead of attending a ball game, a lecture, or a concert in person, you watch it on TV. 

So with a far larger population, everyone is scrambling to find ways to handle more work with fewer employees and at each step we get further and further from normal human contact. Which is not good for society and leads to a further dichotomy and division. It’s bad enough now. Algorithms cause you to find only things that reinforce your own way of thinking and leads to less contact with others.  It becomes easier and easier to disagree with someone who thinks differently if you don’t really know them as people, if you don't have shared experiences and background.  Folks no longer know their neighbors like they once used to. Friends are picked from a broad geographic area and it’s common interests that hold you together.  It used to be most of one's friends lived near them and shared geography was one of the things which helped keep people close. There were fewer widespread interests back then, so it was more likely that you shared more with neighbors as well as proximity. We need to have greater human contact with people who think differently than we do if our society is going to go back towards being more benevolent and caring.

Out of door activities, hunting, hiking, biking, canoeing, backpacking…. give us a prime example of these changes. In my youth, you could go pretty much where you wanted (though we didn't enjoy the same latitude our fathers had) and no one much cared as long as you were decent and didn’t screw up top badly. But as population grew, solitude became harder to find and became more prized as a result. That is a prime reason why many folks move here - less people, less pressure and regulations, a more laid-back atmosphere. But some who moved here remember what it was like where they came from and they guard their property more jealously than they would have had it been 50 years earlier. So Posted signs appear where none had been before. On our public lands, the managers now have to grapple with a choice of giving folks access and protecting the resources they come to see. You  have to make a choice now when 50 years ago, that was not an issue. So now in many areas there are now permits required, lottery systems, off limits areas, closed to the public hours, and so on. Coping with population change starts to limit the things we want to do. It will only worsen; we are on a slippery downhill slope, one which will be exacerbated by coming environmental change. 

It’s an odd juxtaposition: the bonds of friends and family become increasingly important, just as the same time they are lessening. Just when we need our kids around to strengthen these bonds,  they scatter further. You don't take the job your father and hisi father had. If you want to advance in your work, you don't do it at the corporation where you started; you go elsewhere - where you don't know people, where they don't know you.
<![CDATA[A Race to Remember]]>Wed, 23 Nov 2022 00:40:33 GMThttp://vinyardschoice.com/blog-re-tales/a-race-to-rememberThere was a local fellow who was an accomplished liar and for years kept trying to buy his own farm, dairy preferred. He had no money; usually the story was one thing or another about how his grandmother would provide what he needed. Over the years, he wasted a lot of other people's time, as well as his own, but eventually managed to get a tiny place with a small barn for heifers. I assume he got this place the conventional way, by saving his money. He kept it nice, I will say.

Thirty years ago, I had a couple on their honeymoon who’d decided to start their new life together on a farm. I showed them a place and they agreed then and there to buy it. We signed the contract right away and I got his $10000 deposit check. And it bounced. I called him and learned that he’d recently switched accounts and had thought there was enough money left in the old one to cover this. And apologized, saying he’d get a new one out to me right away;. Days later,; he said he wanted to show the place to his father and said he’d bring it in person. Then he called, saying his father had suffered a panic attack on the way up (he didn’t want his darling to leave home), and they had to turn back. Shortening the story, it was one plausible excuse after another and we eventually saw the light and put it back on the market. But the story does’t end there. Fifteen years later, we got a call from his no longer new wife, apologizing for all he’d put us through. They’d split up over his accomplished lying. I wonder what lies he given her?

We are experiencing a similar situation now, but with its own wrinkles, lots of them. Jim and Sally needed to retire. Jim wasn’t emotionally ready, but Sally’d had enough. So much that she’d moved in with children leaving Jim alone on  the farm until he was ready to join her. Right now with the low milk prices, dairies are kind of toxic, no one wants one, and this has been made especially worse since the milk handlers want less producers, not more. It’s a strange juxtaposition: prices are rising on all real estate, things sell quickly, yet no one wants operating diaries. That used to be 2/3s of my business.

So I was delighted to receive a call from Trent. He told me he wanted to buy their place. Fine, we want to sell it. He offered full price then and there. “Don’t you want to see it first?”, I asked. “No, I am a livestock hauler and go by regularly. I know the place and don’t need to look at it. Plus I am too busy at the moment.”  O…K…

I drew up the contract and sent it to him, and got it returned, signed, and very quickly. I then took it to Jim and Sally and discussed it. It was a cash sale, simple, quick and easy. Trent had provided me with a statement from his bank saying that he has $5.9 million in assets there, in which $855000 was immediately available. It doesn’t get better than this.

As this is highly unusual, I’d discussed this with Trent a bit beforehand. Here’s his story. He had just sold a 1000 acre stocked and equipped farm in Pennsylvania to a cousin and banked the money, letting it sit there until he found  his own place. Then I learned his last name, Feneman. That was a very familiar name to me. There are Feneman’s in the next county over, highly respected, successful in life, mostly dairymen. I knew some of them and knew of others by reputation. You never hear a bad word about that family. The one I knew the best was his uncle. I hadn’t been aware there was a branch of the family in Pennsylvania, but why not? So that explained something. Later I learned he’d inherited his place from his grandfather, who had a dozen or more farms in that area of Pennsylvania. It all made sense.

These were among the things I discussed with Jim and Sally, in person and over emails and phone calls. One of their concerns was over him getting a milk market. They had one, with Agrimark, which utilizes a Canadian-style plan with a base for production. The base can be earned, but you get drastically less for your product while you establish the base. A more practical approach would be to purchase it from Jim and Sally. They were willing to throw in the feed since he’d offered full price, but the base was too much money to just give away. “Did he understand this?”, they asked me. I couldn’t say how well he understood it but could say that he’’d been so informed. And if he knew the dairy business, he’d understand.

So they signed. Trent had agreed to supply a $20000 check for earnest money, but I didn’t have it yet. This always makes me a trifle nervous though it is not uncommon.

Trent had wanted to buy the cattle too plus whatever machinery they wanted to sell and he arranged to visit Saturday afternoon to see these things. That made me feel better as now he’d have a chance to visit the buildings and see the land. I do NOT like selling things sight-unseen.

He arrived right on time, driving an older pickup, with his wife (girlfriend?) and kids in tow. And was a lot younger than I expected, still in his 20’s, he said. Jim and Sally’s place has a lot of fairly new buildings, including the home, but little effort is made to make things pretty or keep anything particularly clean. I worry about that. But Trent didn’t. He was fine with everything. And didn’t want to take the time to go inside the barns or even visit the home.

He explained his haste. It seems he had planned to buy the Flint farm and that had fallen through. I hadn’t known it was for sale. Flint’s mother had worked for us years ago and, ironically, had made two sales of property which I had listed - the farm Jim and Sally owned and the Flint place. Anyway, the story was that he had bought a some machinery from White’s Farm Supply and the Flints had made unreasonable demands upon him, one of which was that he was not to deal with White’s.

They went on to discuss prices on cows and youngstock. He agreed to everything without bargaining, except he said they’d offered the cattle at too low a price. He’d pay an additional $200 each. What? No one says this. I got the impression that Trent was naive, not used to having money, and now had so much that thousands here and there meant nothing to him. In the back of my mind, I now saw red flags in too many places and I was happy to remember that in one of my first emails I’d said something to the effect,”If something seems too good to be true, then it probably isn’t true.” Afterwards, I would go back to that theme in private communications with Sally.

That day, we discussed the sale of their base and said we’d have to talk with Agrimark to find out exactly what it was and what it was worth. Later, we told him $76000, to which he instantly agreed. This was too easy, why8 not? We’d had so much trouble with most every deal that it wa time for something to go right consistently.. Life had suddenly got very good for everyone. We thought.

One of two things Trent asked for  was to park some machinery there he’d bought from White’s. That was not ideal, but they were good with it. The other thing was the chance to start working here before we had the closing. He stated he had cattle of his own in a farm in Pennsylvania and they were not being care-for to his satisfaction. He was anxious to get them were he could do that himself. (Yet he lives 2 .5 hours west of us.) I did not like this one bit: it is never a good idea to have to such contact before the sale; worse, Jim can be mercurial and has a temper. Plus adding 30 cows would be a 50% increase in Jim’s workload and he was short of feed already. Their lawyer nixed that idea, as I’d expected and hoped for.  Since I have mentioned lawyers, Trent didn’t have one. I gave him some recommendations and urged him to select one immediately so he could review the contract in the time frame provided. That never happened.

Before he left, Trent gave me the $20000 check, then asked if there was a local gas station that would take a check. He was low both on gas and cash. I didn’t know of any and gave him $20 to get home on. Since I rarely use credit cards and never use ATMs, I did not think to ask why he just didn’t pay for gas that way. The wife (girlfriend?) and kids stayed in the truck the entire time. Strange; weren’t they even interested enough to get out?

The next day he asked me about another farm we had nearby ($525000), saying that since Jim and Sally’s house had only 2 bedrooms, that it might make sense to buy another farm with a bigger house and operate the two together. Then, a day later, he inquired about a place we have in Washington County, 2.5 hour’s drive east, could we show him that? That was  getting totally crazy.

Things went fine for two days. Then my bank called me. They could not honor the check; no such account existed. Red flags  and suspicions - heck; this was serious. I called his bank, which was large and not local, and not surprisingly, it took significant negotiation of their phone maze, but eventually I reached someone who confirmed the routing number/account number was not in their system. He was not very helpful in other ways, but I hadn’t expected to be that lucky.

Then I called, or tried to call, the bank executive who’d given him the proof of funds letter. The branch had never heard of such a person. A second call a day or two later was more revealing. As I was discussing things, the fellow at the bank mentioned Trent’s name. Only I had not yet told him who it was we were speaking of. Then he inadvertently said something that implied that Trent had another account. That was at least hopeful. Later on, I realized that the executive’s signature (largely illegible) did not look enough like the name as it appeared as printed. And one letter varied in the printed versions, a typo - but which was correct?

Friday night Trent called, apologized about the check, and said he’d send out a replacement check right away. That was two weeks ago; the mail sure is slow these days. Later, I did him the courtesy of letting him know it did not arrive - and got no response to my email. Always before, he had been extremely quick to communicate.

Meanwhile, I got on the horn with White’s Farm Supply and eventually got into a long talk with the salesman. His story was that Trent had come to him to buy two tractors and a baler, $130000 worth of machinery. They don’t often get the chance to make sales like that, especially to someone Trent’s age. This made the salesman’s day.  But he had the money, Trent said, and gave them a check then and there with instructions to deliver it to Flints on such and such a day. Later, they discovered the check was no good, same story as mine. But that was after they’d delivered it to Flints, only to be turned back and make the drive back - fully loaded.

Sally, alarmed now since I’d been been in regular touch with about all these events, did some of her own due diligence, and learned Trent had been arrested for Grand Larceny. To be fair to him, arrested does not mean convicted. I did the same thing, visiting our friend Google. True, there was a radio station report that three months earlier he had been arrested. But I learned nothing more. So I called the Sheriff in that county. A couple of calls later (they were obviously not anxious to speak with me), I learned I wanted the sheriff in the next county over, not the one in which the radio station was located. I called the other Sheriff and found out it was a State Police investigation and got the name of a deputy who was on the case - back in the original county Sheriff’s. I called him today but had to leave a message. No call back (yet).

Later on, I had a phone discussion with Sheriff Lincoln from Steuben County, who has been investigating Trent. Apparently there were 4-5 bad check incidents from out that way as well, mostly for trucks and truck repairs. One truck purchased and recovered could not be returned to the rightful owner until the old owner paid a $1400 bill Trent had incurred for brake repairs. Another was quickly “sold” to someone else, recovered, but cannot be released to the real owner until the title reverts back to him. The proof of funds letters are each different, manipulated according to the intended purpose.

Lincoln has been trying to find him. Trent is never a found at his address, but a neighbor says he is there, late at night, once every so often, at week or longer intervals. Nor does he take the Sheriff’s calls. This is interesting: at the building where his address is, there is some sort of rehab or similar program of which he was a part, only he has not attended in weeks.

We had some rainy weather, so I took advantage of it to make some visits. First, I went to the Feneman who I knew best. He was glad to see me and began to talk cows.. and talk cows… and talk cows. But I did get to ask about Trent. Deleting the expletives, he claimed that Trent was no real relation of his. The story he told was that two Feneman brothers came across on the Mayflower. His side came from-the brother who went to New York while the other brother went to Pennsylvania. I doubt that was historically correct but the gist was that he had zero use for Trent, right from the start. I felt Trent was likable enough so was taken a bit aback at the venom displayed. It seems he’d met Trent twice. The first time was when Trent arrived and introduced himself to his “uncle”, then wanted him to sell him his farm and carry terms (the uncle is 88 years old now and does not do much of the farming himself any longer - but still does some). There was a blunt refusal. Then, weeks later, Trent reappeared, wanting to rent the farm instead and put in his own cows. Another blunt refusal.

Then I went to visit the Flints. It did not look like a farm that would be for sale: they had lots going on, new buildings, a farm store, a younger generation now owning and loving it. They knew Trent - too well. Their side of the story was that he’d approached them to be a junior partner and would bring in $500000 as his share. They agreed. After all they’d still be majority owners and who can’t find a use for $500000? Trent’s story had been that he was buying them out at $500000. As for not allowing him to deal with White’s, they laughed at that one. White’s was fine with them. In fact they’d delivered Trent’s machinery there but were told not to unload it as they no longer had any agreement with Trent and didn’t believe he has the money.

Why didn’t they think he didn’t have the money? Well, he bought a bunch of their cows and had them delivered to a farm in Pennsylvania. Then the check bounced and they had to get a truck and trailer to Pennsylvania to get them back, at their expense. What I don’t understand is why Trent would move cattle to another farm if he was supposedly buying theirs. There’s probably an explanation; I just didn’t think to ask for one.

One story I heard was that he was romantically involved with one of the Flint owners, a young lady who was single, badly crippled from an accident long ago, the sort of person you might think would welcome advances. In my conversation with her, this did not come up. She is pretty smart.

But I did learn a number of other things. One, he’d given a bad check to Cazenovia Equipment and another to Hudson River, a local machinery dealer. Two, he’d tried to buy a farm in Washington County from two bothers who were desperate to sell out and eagerly grasped at the straws he offered. There is, she said, a lawsuit going on about that bad check.

The thing I learned that was most interesting is that she said he was bi-polar. That could explain a lot. One of the ways bi-polar can manifest itself is a manic stage where you feel you can do no wrong and are willing to take great chances. Did the fact he never replied to my email about not receiving the replacement check; indicate he’d now entered a depressive stage? Or did it mean he knew the jig was up with us? And how did Miss Flint find out he was bi-polar? While it should be nothing to be ashamed of, folks don’t normally announce something such as this to acquaintances. Though I could have, I failed to ask about that.

Getting back to Jim and Sally: after telling their bank that they had a cash sale, they had to go back and tell them the sale was off, back to normal. Here’s what she learned from that call:

‘…My son was talking to some people over in VanHornesville area yesterday and they were telling him about someone trying to pull a scam like Trent tried on us over in that area.

Then I called to let our bank guy know we wouldn't be selling right away - and I gave my report to one of the women who answers the phone and she said they have a client that fell for the same type of thing - but the cows and equipment made it onto the farm and they've been trying to get him out for the last month.  she didn't tell me the name of the people, but she was very interested to hear about our experience and was going to share it with the other loan officers.”

That was probably not Trent. But it shows there are others out there.