Blog: R.E. Tales
Hey, not every place is pretty.
One of my standing jokes, a serious one, is that my goal is to sell every property – once. That never fails to bring smiles and gets the point across that I want my people to be happy and successful with their purchase. Human nature being what it is, it’s an impossible goal. The vast majority work out like we all hoped in the beginning. But not all do. There is repeat business. I’ll use my experience with one man to illustrate both sides, buyers’ and sellers’.
Jules Gainsworth showed up in a brand new cargo van, Julia, his girlfriend along with him. She was grandmotherly and I felt comfortable with her right away. She sat in a lawn chair while I occupied the suicide seat and Jules drove. He could not marry her as his divorce, a contentious one, was not final. He obviously had a good chunk of change and intended to make a complete change in his life. His marriage had fallen apart, irrevocably, then he’d encountered Julia, an old friend from college and they hit it off, deciding to quit his business and start a farm, all for fun. Once a banker and now an energy supplier, Jules was definitely a businessman. I learned a lot from him.
We had several outings to find the right place. Now to backtrack and talk about the “right”one.
Many years before Joe had decided to sell his farm. A bachelor getting on in years, he’d always lived with his mother and ever since she died, there was little point in staying on there, alone. We showed it a number of times but the price was set too high to make an easy sale. Then he took it off the market. Why? He acquired a mail order bride. I knew of course that this kind of thing happened, but I’d never witnessed it before. She was Russian, good looking, far younger. If Joe was happy, I was happy for him. We took it off the market.
Some years later, I responded to a lead on a farm that might be for sale and called a number in Schenectady. In our phone conversation I realized I knew the farm. It has been Joe’s and it was his bride with whom I was talking. She was living with someone else now and no longer had any use for the property. Joe had died a while back and she’d inherited it. There were no children. At first I was suspicious about her motives, but soon lost them as I got to know her.
Jules was one of those who saw it and he figured it was perfect for him. He could have all the privacy one could ever hope for, raise a few critters, and be happy in his new life. We attended a party he gave and got to meet his neighbors and through trips there to visit could witness the on-going home remodeling.
But Jules’ mind never stopped working. He was still a businessman at heart and he wanted to make money, not just have a hobby. His farm would only be marginally viable as an agricultural business; he saw that. At the same time, his energy business sold. Due to its peculiar location, he never really thought that would happen. This delighted him and made it possible to buy another farm. So he called me and we went looking.
Farm #2 was one I’d sold not long ago for it’s original owners, who’d been there forever. It had a beautiful large brick home and an attractive barn, in an area where the other farms were similar. The first buyer for it was a former professional football player, a BIG guy, who looked funny next to his small Jersey cattle. Cows are supposed to look bigger than their owners. This fellow did well with them, so well he got bored and was looking for greener pastures, as an agricultural writer. He put it up for sale. Jules became the buyer: now he could have a commercial dairy.
With this thought, he placed his first farm for sale. I had a couple I’d been working closely with who insisted upon utter privacy and once Jules’ farm was signed up, I called them. They came up, realized it was perfect for them and agreed to buy, then and there. I knew they would. Sometimes things go right in this business. They are still there and are now thinking of acquiring a second property.
Now Jules had never actually farmed before, not for his living. He peppered me with questions, good ones. Should he keep the Jerseys or instead buy Holsteins like nearly everyone else had? We crunched the numbers and I concluded that in this situation it would not make much difference financially. Yes, he wouldn’t get as much milk or cash from beef and calf sales, but there’d be a bit less feed consumed and due to the higher butterfat and protein from Jerseys, the milk check wouldn’t suffer much. It was a toss-up. He went with the Jerseys.
Now, since he was officially retired, he hired enough help so that he only needed to manage and to pitch in here and there as he liked. He would often call me for advice and to bounce ideas back and forth. I’d hear about the new herdsman he got, how great he was, then, next time, I’d hear about why he was fired and how great his replacement was. Jules was not one to suffer fools and if someone wasn’t going to work out, he had no problem firing them. He also knew how to get new workers. Finally he got Smitty, who turned out to be man he wanted and Jules became like a grandparent to the young couple and their kids. Smitty was not highly experienced or well-educated, but what he learned, he learned right, and he worked hard, with Jules’ success in mind.
Speaking of firing, somewhere around this time, he got rid of Julia. She was not working out; it seems she came with some psychological baggage, the sort of thing you don’t see until you get to know her real well. I saw no sign of it, nor did he – at first. It was the kind of thing there was no sense in putting up with in someone to whom you were not committed to (ie – married to). So he sent her packing – but nicely. They remained friends and he often spoke with her on the phone. I am sure that he made things financially right for her.
Meanwhile, he was growing the farm. He bought another large piece of land, another 200 acres. These sales were all for cash, I might add. Made things easy for me; I have always loved to see cash buyers.
One day, I stopped in and found 2 new Ford tractors setting there. He’d gotten good terms on them and since he needed the power, could not resist the deal. One was $80000 and the other $120000. New tractors are not cheap; that’s why you can often sell one you’d used for many ears and get back what you originally paid.
But I was surprised Jules did that. He liked animals far more than machinery. I told him that for the $200000, he could have bought 20 $10000 tractors. A $10000 tractor would do the same work and if it broke down, well, he could just park it and start another of the 20 he had. Not that I thought anyone would let a $10000 tractor go unfixed – he got my point, and wished he had asked before he’d committed to them. The big one continually gave him problems, something in the computer which he dealer had a hard time correcting. They eventually took it back, but that was a long while later and only after he’d raised enough sand.
By that time, Jules had learned that he was going to keep losing money. On a dairy farm, it’s hard enough to be profitable with family help. His bad knees would not allow him to milk and he saw there’d be no light at the end of the tunnel. So he decided to buy a small farm and just keep some sheep to have fun with.
We put farm #2 for sale and found a buyer who knew enough about farming to know he did not want any part of the dairy business. So I was suprised that he bought Jule’s cattle and machinery. Later the barn burned down, so that ended Farm #2’s dairy career.
What did Jules find to replace it?
Farm #3 was one I’d had a long history with. The original owners retired and sold it to a doctor who had a young man whom he wanted to install there. It took him 2 years to discover that while personable, the young man didn’t really like physical labor. So we found renters – after fixing the small amount of damage the young man had done to the home. We ended up with a tenant who’d had years of experience working for some good local dairymen. This was his chance for his own farm. He was a person greatly influenced by outer appearances: two examples. He told me how much of a come-down it would be to move into this home. He lived in a trailer now. What? “My trailer is new”, he said, as if there was no need to say more. His wife was the splashy kind; I could not figure out why she married him. I’ll bet he didn’t either. Now I know, he was so enamoured with her looks, that he’d forgive any thing she did. She did lots too; expensive things that were neither needed nor affordable, other men… I shouldn’t go on. But they’re still married, after all these years.
Eventually the doctor got tired of him and his troubles and he left the area (for a while). We listed it for sale and in due time sold it to a family with whom I’d worked for years, selling them multiple properties. He bought land for hunting and if it had buildings, he’d rent them out. They owned it for a long time, keeping tenants on the farm until they too got fed up with the process of revolving door tenants. He listed it with the 90 acres on one side of the road and kept the rest, around 200 acres – but with no buildings that needed attention. He would let the crop land there, never that good anyhow, return to trees.
Jules bought the 90 acres of Farm #3. It too had a private setting, with glorious views and a small dairy barn in useable shape but sorely in need of remodeling. But for sheep, it would do. The sheep didn’t last long. Living there alone, he missed Smitty and his family and finally he decided he’d put on cows and give Smitty a job.
He consulted with me about putting a Jersey dairy here. We went through the costs of and the process of remodeling the barn. Then we covered his game plan of buying feed (he wasn’t going to try to crop any longer – that had been a big problem for him in the past, something he was never going to be good at). My conclusion at the end of this process was that this scheme would not pay here. Disappointed, he thanked me for telling him that.
The next thing I knew was that he was remodeling the barn, ignoring my advice. He had moved Smitty in and would soon be milking Jerseys once again. He’d let Smitty and family have the home and he’d erect something small for himself. His needs were small. And it was small indeed, sort of a 10×40’ trailer, one that never had wheels.
Time passed and Jules was having a hard time of it. The barn and cows always looked nice and were well cared-for. But his bank account wasn’t. He’d borrowed several times by now. Smitty tried hard; he’d been promised to be worked into ownership of the place and it was the one opportunity he’d get in life – he knew. Jules, n working him into an ownership position, allowed him to see more and more of the books and to learn the business part about dairying. This allowed Smitty to realize Jules was bleeding money, keeping afloat by borrowing and that when the time came for Smitty to take completely over, there might not be anything left. So he reluctantly told Jules that they did not see a viable future there for them. The cows were sold and sheep returned, along with honey bees. Jules found many ways to keep himself interested. Though he didn’t drink it, he also made beer.
The cattle were gone, but there was still debt left, so Jules unretired and went back to work. Truck driving didn’t last but a few days. Substitute teaching did, but did not bring in enough money to service his debt and Jules ended up bankrupt. Eventually he paid everyone everything they were owed, but it took a while.
When I listed Farm #3 for sale again, Jules told me that he was a millionaire when we first met and that he’d pissed it all away. Sad. But he’d had fun doing it and he didn’t look back, wishing he had done differently, the “what-ifs”. Once we sold Farm #3, he’d have nothing left of that million. Zero. So his hope was centered upon granting himself a life tenancy to his tiny home. That made sense for him, under these circumstances. But it complicated my job. Few buyers want a farm with a built-in grandfather, one you would have to see every day as he lived 40’ away and used your driveway and your well. And what would happen when he got too old and needed help? Would they have to do all that? Still not completely divorced, he had no family anywhere near, only a slightly-estranged daughter in another state. Parental care is hard to do when you are close relatives, far harder when it’s someone you don’t even know. Would Jules try to tell them how to run the farm? What would he be like to get along with? How would he feel knowing they were essentially waiting for him to die so they could have the farm to themselves? All these thoughts raced through the minds of buyers.
Naturally, it made my job harder than it would first appear to be. The place was priced to sell, only it came with strings attached. We finally did sell it to a very nice family from Connecticut who obviously decided Jules was a hurdle they could get over. Jules tried not to interfere and only volunteered advice when asked. He gave them all the space he could and helped them when he could, but still there were times when the family needed to assist him.
Jules went to Long Island to help an older brother with health problems and a son who had far worse problems. That took a long time, and by the time things were resolved there, Jules began to have his own physical difficulties. His daughter took him in and cared for him in his last days. I miss him and regret I never got to see him again.
Some blogs are designed to amuse; others can be an immense help. All are interesting.
After 40 years, I've learned a lot, & acquired unforgettable experiences. Follow these long enough and you'll eventually get the whole book. (Names probably changed, for obvious reasons.)