Author Archive

Too-Cool Tools: Embracing Tomorrow

Posted on September 2, 2013 by

The future starts today, not tomorrow.” ~ Pope John Paul II

Remember last month, when I talked about how amazing it is that one little smartphone or tablet can do so many useful things? Well, not everyone has much use for smartphones.

Take my Uncle Milt: He’s convinced that true happiness lies in a phone that’s just a phone. And he’s pretty sure iPads are, well, evil. Every time I see him, he grumbles about the latest new-fangled technology. Bad enough they invented the fax machine, he says – he never did get the hang of that thing. Too many buttons, and he never knew whether to dial 9 or 1 first. And don’t even mention that curly fax paper!

Well, yesterday Uncle Milt’s mentor told him he has to learn how to use an iPad. Uncle Milt is not a happy camper.

Does this sound like you? If it does, this month’s column is for you. Read More→


Putting It All together – Bento 4

Posted on July 31, 2013 by

“To say that I am organized is an understatement, but my car tells a different story.”
~ Emily Procter

I love summertime, don’t you? So many memories in the making! Barbecues with the family. Long, lazy evenings by the pool. Ball games and beer.  Mowing the lawn. Mowing the lawn again. And mowing the lawn again…. And when, oh when, are those kids ever going to sleep? Man, it’s hot! I’m going inside.

I love air conditioning, don’t you?

When you’ve had enough of the summer heat, maybe it’s time to pay some attention to your office. You do have an office, right? And no, a pile of paper on the kitchen table doesn’t count as an office. You need some dedicated space.  It could be just a corner of a room but it needs to be set aside just for business. It needs to be pleasant, quiet, and comfortable.

You may not want to spend the time, but it really is important for you to organize all the files and “stuff” you’ll have around you.  If you’re not organized, things fall through the cracks. Deadlines get missed. Money evaporates. I’m speaking from experience here.  There was a time when my home office looked like the aftermath of a hurricane.  Stuff was everywhere.  That’s when I knew I had to get organized!

Now, it’s your turn. Your home office doesn’t have to be expensive. It does need to be reasonably efficient, though, so setting it up deserves some quality time and attention. Read More→


“Compassion brings us to a stop, and for a moment we rise above ourselves.” ~ Mason Cooley

Aunt Tillie is on fire! Not literally, of course. She’s hot into real estate investing. She’s got six rental houses, all occupied, and every tenant is up-to-date on the rent. At least, they were up-to-date until last month. Mr. Farkle’s rent was three weeks late last month and he still hasn’t paid this month. Tillie’s having a hard time deciding whether or not to start eviction proceedings. She knows he’d pay it if he could, but she can’t afford to give him free rent. Is it better to be kindly and poor, or mean and rich? And are those her only choices?

This balancing act – Should I be a sucker, or a scrooge? – is one of the toughest things real estate investors have to walk through, and we have to do it on a regular basis.

I had a disturbing conversation recently that brought this point home for me. A couple I know invests in real estate together. They have about a dozen rental houses, and they do very well. When the economy tanked, though, they found they had to be a little more flexible about collecting rent payments. Read More→


“Without a sense of teamwork I think it’s really hard to build a great business.”
~ Martha Stewart

Sticker shock. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling it these days. In the doctor’s office, at my kid’s college, and at the grocery store.

Business expenses are going up, too. Have you priced Microsoft Office Pro lately? Ouch!  But it would be almost impossible to run a business these days without it. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to cough up the bucks to get it. 

Or are you?

Maybe not, thanks to something called “open source.”

What the heck is open source? It’s software that’s created and improved by anyone who wants to pitch in, and it’s free for anyone who wants to use it. This is very different from the usual corporate model, where software is written in secret with lots of copyright lawyers hanging around the water cooler.

Open source is kind of a philosophy. The idea is that when you’ve got a talent pool made of the entire human race, instead of just a limited number of in-house professionals, innovations come more quickly, and bugs are eliminated faster. Everyone can contribute, and everyone can use it free, for any purpose. Read More→


Discovering an Old Favorite

Posted on May 1, 2013 by

A self-taught man usually has a poor teacher. ~ Henny Youngman

Did you know that the little iPhone I carry around with me is more powerful than the computer that took Apollo 11 to the moon? It’s true. The Apollo 11 computer was just 64 kilobytes!

It’s amazing, isn’t it? I can balance my checking account on my phone. I get 200 cable stations on my TV, and I bet someday I’ll be able to watch them all at the same time. And I’m pretty sure my kids don’t know how to dial a rotary telephone.

Yes, we’ve come a long, long way from Atari Pong!

(For my younger readers, Pong was a very simple computer game where you made a little ball go back and forth and .…. Well, I guess you kind of had to be there.)

But technology development for its own sake just creates shiny distractions. In the rush for new hardware, new applications, and new and more sophisticated Internet sites, it’s easy to forget about yesterday’s website of the day.

So this month, I’m taking a look at a website that’s well-known and not so shiny anymore, but incredibly useful: Youtube.

Yes, Youtube. I know, it’s old news, but Youtube isn’t just for wardrobe malfunctions anymore. Sure, you can watch the Shamwow guy, or see the zoo lady tickle the baby penguin (I love that one!), or be inspired by that great Chrysler Super Bowl commercial from 2011. Read More→


Treat your password like your toothbrush. Don’t let anybody else use it, and get a new one every six months. ~ Clifford Stoll

Tonight you’re closing on a lucrative short sale. Afterwards, you’ve got a special dinner planned. And it’s good to know your seller will sleep better than she has in months. Yes, it’s going to be a great night. All you need to do now is print out the paperwork.

So you turn on your laptop and … nothing.  Nothing. Just the dreaded blue screen of death!

Viruses happen. Spilled coffee happens. Accidentally dropping your iPhone in the swimming pool because you insisted you could carry four margaritas while you dance the hula with your cute cousin Betsy, well, that happens too.

If you’re like me, your whole life is in your iPad. Heaven forbid all that information should suddenly disappear! You can install anti-virus programs, you can be careful what you download, but here’s the bottom line: It’s not a matter of if your system will crash. It’s just a matter of when. It’s true for notepads and smartphones as well as laptops and PCs. So no matter what else you do, you’ll need to make sure all that wonderful information lives somewhere safer than your laptop. Read More→


“The right tool for the job” ~ slogan for True Temper Tools

Congratulations – you made it through the winter and spring is on its way!  I think spring is a perfect time to take an inventory of your real estate investment “tools.” And if you’ve been sitting on the sidelines, wondering if real estate investing is for you, spring is also a great time to dive in! Either way, it’s a good time to get back to basics. Today, let’s focus on one of my favorite investment techniques: “subject to” mortgages.

Most of you know that when you buy a house, you usually receive a warranty deed, which gives ownership of a piece of property.  If you’re paying all cash for a property, you just exchange the cash for the warranty deed.  So far so good.

But if you don’t have all the cash, you have to borrow the money.  Most of you know how the typical mortgage loan works: Buddy Banker says, “Sure, just sign this promissory note that says you’ll pay it all back.”  In return, you get a security instrument that says if you don’t pay the promissory note, the bank gets the property.  In most states, that security instrument is the mortgage (In Georgia, we use security deeds). That mortgage, when it’s recorded, creates a lien on the property.  In other words, the bank puts everyone on public notice that if the owner sells or transfers the property, the bank has to be paid off first. 

A “subject-to” transaction is a little different.  When you buy a house this way, you’ll take over payments on the original mortgage. You’ll bring the house up to date on the mortgage and back taxes and then continue to make mortgage payments, subject to the existing financing. The seller gives you a warranty deed, which conveys ownership to you.  That means you get the tax benefits and the profits, but you also get the headaches and costs.  Read More→


CaptureNotes: Your Life, Color-Coded

Posted on January 30, 2013 by

I’m known for my handwritten notes.” ~ Pamela Anderson

 You’re driving your Uncle Bugsy to the doctor when you spot a “for sale by owner” sign in front of a nice little brick house. You’re already running late, but you’ve been watching this house – it’s got a big blue tarp draped over the roof – for a couple of months now. You’ve got no pen and paper, and you won’t have time to stop later. Sure, you can snap a picture with your cellphone, but you’d really like to take some notes, too.

Unfortunately, Uncle Bugsy isn’t known for his patience, so you’re only going to have about a minute before he starts complaining about how inconsiderate kids are nowadays.

What should you do?

If you have an iPad, the solution is a great little app called CaptureNotes. CaptureNotes might look like just another note-taking application, but it’s not. Yes, it lets you do all the usual note-taking things: create notes, choose the type of paper and ink color, and doodle and scribble on a touch screen. So far, it’s pretty ordinary.

But there are three other things CaptureNotes does that make it really useful for us as real estate investors. Read More→


New Habits for a New Year

Posted on January 1, 2013 by

Time and health are two precious assets that we don’t recognize and appreciate until they have been depleted.” ~ Denis Waitley

Wow. What a year! The turkey leftovers are gone. There are just a few pine needles left in the carpet. And your Aunt Miriam, thank goodness, has gone home to Indiana and has taken the fruitcake with her. Now it’s time to reflect.

I don’t know about you, but I reached many of my goals in 2012, and that feels great! Still, I know 2013 will bring plenty more challenges and opportunities. It would be boring, wouldn’t it, if we were completely finished with everything by the end of the year. I mean, what would we do then?

So we carry our unfinished business into the following year. That’s what New Year’s resolutions are for, right?  “For every single day of 2013. I’m going to eat just 700 calories and jog six miles!”

For many of us, new year’s resolutions are made to be broken. In fact, for some of us, the best way to make sure something doesn’t get done is to make a new year’s resolution to do it. It’s the kiss of death!

Thankfully, though, we live in the digital age where help is as close as your iPad. So this month, I’ve got two apps to recommend. Read More→


Discretion in speech is more important than eloquence.” ~ English proverb

It’s eight p.m. on a Saturday night. You’ve just settled into your front-row seat at the opera – you’re seeing your favorite, La Traviata.

Okay, so you’re really at a WWE wrestling smackdown. Work with me here.

At any rate, you’re in your seat waiting for the action to begin, and your phone vibrates. Caller ID says it’s Francine Fudley, a very motivated seller who’s on the verge of signing a contract. But wait, that’s wrong! Isn’t Francine Fudley the name of your brother’s second wife’s third cousin? The seller’s name is really Freddie Pfeffer, right? Or is that Frances Furman?

Sheesh. What a dilemma! You’ve got to take a call from the seller, even if it means missing a perfectly good cage match. But if you take the call and it turns out to be your brother’s second wife’s third cousin, you’ll be stuck in a long, long conversation about how her gout is a sure sign of a decaying society.

Do you answer the call, or not? Read More→


MDScan: Quick! I Need it Yesterday!

Posted on November 1, 2012 by

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” ~ Anonymous

Today, here’s on offering for you Android fans.

Let’s set the scene: You’ve found a terrific little house to buy. You’ve finally reached an agreement with the seller, but one of his requirements is a little unusual. You want to run it by your lawyer.

Unfortunately, it’s 4:00 p.m. on Friday. In one hour, your attorney is flying to the Himalayas for three weeks to climb Mt. Everest. Even if he could get a signal up there, he has no intention of answering his phone while he’s gone. If he receives the offer before he leaves, he will read it on the plane and at least send you a quick text before he piles on his mountain-climbing gear. But if you don’t get it to him in time, well, you’re going to have to rely on Bernie, your wife’s aunt’s boss’s son, a really strange guy who just passed the bar exam after failing it twelve times. You’d really, really like to use your own attorney.

Now here’s the problem: You are at the house with the seller. Neither of you has a scanner. You are 45 minutes away from your office. Your assistant has the week off. What to do? Read More→


An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

Remember when your dear Aunt Myrtle asked you to help her sell that Miami condo? You did the research, helped arrange some inexpensive upgrades, priced the home sensibly, and voila! It sold in a week and a half. Aunt Myrtle was so grateful she sent you homemade bread and cookies for a year.

But that was then.  This isn’t your Aunt Myrtle’s condo market anymore, and it’s not just because of the Great Recession. While prices were hurtling downward, the amount and availability of information online was increasing like crazy. Databases that used to cost hundreds of dollars per year are now available to everyone for free. And that includes resources like MLS listings that used to be available only to real estate professionals.

Zillow is a great example of just how far online resources have come. Established in 2005 by economists, Zillow doesn’t just provide current home listings; it’s a one-stop shop that analyzes everything from the housing market as a whole to detailed information on single properties. The smart folks in charge have developed mathematical algorithms based on comps and other data, allowing Zillow to predict (or “zestimate”) the value of any property based on comps and other data. Enter an address, and there it is: Zillow’s zestimate of a property’s worth, along with pictures and details from the listing. Comps are even available. And a blog. And a mortgage calculator, and a lot more!  The mobile version can also use GPS to find properties nearby. You can sit in your car in front of a house that’s for sale, look up the price, check Zillow’s value estimate, and then see what houses might be available just around the corner. If you happen to be a bird-dogger, Zillow is your best friend. Read More→