Hey! Where's my Money?
Every morning about four minutes before the class bell rang signaling the start of class, young Anthony would quietly place a bright red apple on the edge of Miss Topp's desk. He has been doing that with a shy smile ever since the first day of school in Early September. On that first fall day of school Miss Topp was pleased but not that surprised. Many first day children brought her a little gift on first day. The second day, Anthony was the only child that brought her a gift - another red apple. This continued day after day until Miss Topp began to look forward to little Anthony walking past her desk, eyes staring down at his shoes and quietly setting down the fruit, always on the same spot. In fact Miss Topp's desk always looked the same. Blotter in the center, a ceramic cup to the left jammed with large black pencils, a pencil sharpener attached to the front left corner for students to use, and of course Anthony's apple on the front right corner. That is until after the afternoon break when the apple would disappear. Miss Topp got into the habit of eating the apple during the daily break when the children were at recess. This apple treat became Miss Topp's daily routine. She no longer brought a snack from home. She didn't have to. Anthony's apple was as reliable as that afternoon break. It always happened.
Anthony bringing an apple was as routine to Miss Topp as Hank always being the last kid in the class to quiet down, or Maria Arnaboldi always getting the top score in any test, or Stephen raising his hand first for any question she threw at the class. She grew to expect it, she habitualized it and it became her norm.
One windy March morning as Miss Tipp sat at her desk a few minutes before the bell, she looked up at saw Anthony sitting at his desk. Something was wrong. She wasn't quite sure what. The she looked around - and no apple!
"Hey, what's going on here?" she thought, "Where's my apple?" Miss Topp asked Anthony.
"I didn't bring one," was Anthony's only reply.
"But I count on that apple every day. You have been bringing me an apple in for months now. I will have no snack today, will I?
"I know Miss Topp.
I know you were expecting perhaps a joke or at least a well defined lesson in real estate. But the moral of the story is you can't count on external events that you do not control and do not participate in and do not even understand. It is human nature to behave like Miss Topp. It's not bad, or unethical. It's natural.
I was watching a special on Bernie Madhoff last night. All these people were getting these great returns on money that they entrusted to Madhoff. They didn't ask any questions as to why, or how, or how long. But when it stopped coming they screamed: "Where's my money?
I know we are told that Bernie was a crook and he lied and misrepresented the facts and he certainly wasn't a little Anthony. But most of the investors getting 20% returns were not asking a lot questions, were they?
The real estate market was booming years ago and prices were rocketing to the stratosphere and most of us were happy with this. When it stopped we asked "What happened to our money?" We forgot to ask, "Why is it skyrocketing, how long will it skyrocket, and what can I do about it?"
The money we access with our credit cards is so easy to use. I pull up to the gas station, run my card through the machine, and pump and go. But what if all of a sudden the card is not accepted because the bank backing it has no cash and shuts down my credit? I'm gonna say "Hey! Where's my money?"
I had a very large unsecured credit line with the bank. Two years ago I called to make sure it was still there. It was. Two weeks later I wrote a check on the line to cover payroll. It bounced. "Hey! Where's my money?"
In today's economic environment we can take nothing for granted. For example, I have been selling a least one house every week lately and I am gaining more and more clients looking for bargain houses to buy. Many of these new clients are late. I got a call from a good friend yesterday. He said, "Gregg, my cousin wants to buy a home in South Fort Myers, three bedroom, two bath, with a pool for under $250,000. I read in the paper where house prices are at a new median low of under $100,000 ($88,000 actually)"
I let Andy know that homes like this where he wanted to buy are around $400,000 now. "Hey - he said what happened?" I told him about Sallie looking for a house in SW Cape for under $75,000. The lowest one I found this week was $79,000.. "Hey what happened?"
While many folks are sitting on the side line houses are selling. They are selling at a rate that is more rapid than in any time in Lee County's history. Yes prices are lower, but they are without a doubt on the upswing. Not everywhere, not every house, not every price point. The median price is down because cheaper houses are selling now, more expensive, larger houses are not - so the median price is down.
The messages I am trying to get to my clients are these:
•1. This is no long term norm.
•2. Dig deep into the trends; ask how, how long, and why.
•3. Yesterday is well, yesterday's news. Figure out where we are gong tomorrow.
•4. You and you alone are responsible for your own success.
•5. Find out where the apple is coming from.
By the way, Anthony got five years after being convicted for apple laundering. Miss Topp now brings her own afternoon snack.