Archive for January, 2008

Birds Have Character

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

I have been a bird watcher, or birder as they now call it, since the 1970′s.  I pulled out my “life list” the other day, a list that names every kind of bird that I’ve ever seen and positively been able to identify.  I need to make a half dozen additions to the list, but the list stood at 128 birds.  That’s not bad, but real serious birders have seen 300 or more.

I carry my Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region edition, any time I go on a hike.  At this stage of my life, most all my hikes are in New Jersey or West Virginia, my two homes.  But having lived in coastal southern California, Oregon, Montana, Florida, and the Virgin Islands gave me the opportunity to see birds not seen here in the mid-atlantic United States.

It may sound ridiculous, but I do have favorite birds.  And birds I frankly don’t care for.  Is that weird?  Here are my favorite tree and ground birds.  I’ll save marsh and water birds for another time.

My favorite bird is the black-capped chickadee.  No matter how cold the winter, he cheerily comes to your feeder.  When it was 30 degrees below zero in Maine, the black-capped chickadee could be counted on to be at the feeder at first light and check in all day long.

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My best camouflaged bird award goes to the dark-eyed junco.  From above, an airborne predator has a hard time distinguishing his black upper body and black eyes.  From below, the dark-eyed junco in flight has an-off white underside that blends well with the sky.

Several birds capture the honors for prettiest bird.  I love the brilliant red male cardinals; the summer yellow and black plumage of an American goldfinch; the same yellow and black of the larger evening grosbeak; the red, white and black of a rose-breasted grosbeak; and the black spotted red-orange and gray of an American kestrel.

Most distinguished looking bird is a two way tie.  I love the stately look of the cedar waxwing, the black mask across his eyes oozing class.  I’m also partial to the tufted titmouse.  This little guy stands so upright, as if he’s gone to finishing school.  His white breast is the white tuxedo shirt, his gray back the tuxedo with tails, and his tuft is the latest hair fashion.

Now the flip side.  I hate starlings.  These boogers were introduced from Europe in 1890.  About 100 were released in Central Park.  Now there’s hundreds of millions crowding out our native birds.  Go home!

They pal around with grackles, the “darth vader” of the bird feeder.  Together, along with a few red-winged blackbirds, these three species congregate in gangs of 300 or more.  They are jerks, cleaning out a day’s worth of bird seeds in a matter of minutes.  Then the mellow birds I enjoy watching have to look elsewhere.

Ugliest bird you gotta love goes to the turkey vulture.  They have that hairless, wrinkled, red-skin head.  But to watch a dozen sitting on a fence after a rainstorm airing out their wings is a sight to see.  It is a thing of beauty.

The scaredy cat award goes to the mourning dove.  Step out the door, they freak out and fly frantically for their lives.  Walk in front of a window, they go nuts.  I’m surprised they’re not afraid of the sunrise.

Two more birds are on my favorite list.  I like them equally, though Ben Franklin would take issue with me.  Bring on the bald eagle and wild turkey.  Hand in hand they represent Americana and our proud way of life.

- Mountain Man

Proper Planning

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Going on a long distance hitchhiking trip, at least for me, takes proper planning.  It’s not a spur of the moment thing, although I have met guys on the road who take a few clothes, wrap them up in a blanket, and tie a rope around it.  That’s all they carry.  I guess I like a few more comforts than that.

Let me say first that hitchhiking, which is known as “thumbing” amongst hitchhikers (thumbers), is a young man’s game.  In your 20′s and 30′s, you can endure less comfort.  My last long distance trip was at 43 years old and I found that the ground seemed to be getting harder, the sun hotter, and the bugs nastier.  I also was susceptible to poison ivy and poison oak, which never affected me in my earlier years.

When I go thumbing, I like to take some 3-4 day side trips into the wilderness.  So my planning begins with researching where trails are located in the states I expect to be in.  I take notes, showing where I can get on the trail and where I’ll come out a few days later.  I’ll also make notes about lakes and rivers I might have the opportunity to explore.  I avoid cities.

I use a backpack, one that has the frame inside, not outside, which is too bulky.  In the bottom compartment, I pack a hooded sweatshirt, a raincoat, a pair of jeans, and sandals.  In the top goes 3 tee shirts, 3 pair of socks, 3 underwear, a flannel shirt, a pair of shorts, warm lined gloves, a ski cap, my journal, and a few odds and ends.  In those small outside pockets go things like pens, magic marker, matches, nail clippers, toothbrush, comb, and such.  A quart bottle for water is essential, too.  I attach my sleeping bag and tent to the outside bottom of the pack with bungee cords.

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The object is to carry enough for comfort, without taking unnecessary things.  You’re either going to carry 30 pounds around for a few months, or 50 pounds.  It makes a big difference, especially when you take off up a wilderness trail that climbs a thousand feet or so.  It’s also easier getting in and out of cars with a smaller, lighter load.

My bible is an undersized road atlas.  I always had a book that was close to the size of a piece of paper (8.5″ x 11″), with a map of each state.  They’re not as detailed as a full sized atlas, but they’re very handy.  I usually refer to my atlas at least 10 times a day.

The most important thing you bring is identification.  Let’s face it, now and then a cop is going to stop to check you out.  Having a big, bushy beard drew me my share of police attention.  But my calm, friendly demeanor defused any potential bad experiences.

I was stopped by a county sheriff once in Arkansas.  He pulled up and rolled down his window.  “Get in the back seat,” he ordered with attitude.  “Good morning officer,” I replied with a sweet smile, “Let me get my ID out of this little pocket of my backpack so you can check me out.”  I held up my pack so he could see that I was innocently getting my ID, not a gun or knife, and handed it to him.

“I’m a good guy and I know you’re just doing your job,” I continued in a friendly voice, trying to take control of the encounter.  “I’ll lean my backpack against your car and get in if you’d like” is my first veiled admission that our interaction began with him ordering me into the backseat. 

As he’s running my ID, I’m talking it up so he’ll feel comfortable that I’m not an escaped felon or something.  “I’m coming from Little Rock and heading for a hiking trail near (whatever).  Am I headed in the right direction?”  Now I’ve led the conversation to him being helpful.  He’s pumped up.

Once I passed the ID test, he offered to take me 20 miles to the county line.  “That would be great”, I replied enthusiastically.  He probably already likes me better than his own son-in-law.  We talked during the ride, and he quickly decided I was a real interesting guy, one of a kind.

Shortly before the county line, he radioed the next county’s sheriffs.  “I’m dropping off a guy with a beard at your county line.  He’s hitchhiking.  If you see him, give him a ride.  He’s a good ole boy!”

- Mountain Man

Strange Bedfellows

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

In June, 1994 I found myself hitchhiking on one of my favorite roads – the Pacific Coast Highway.  I had been hitching around the country since mid-April, and now it was early June.

I got up one morning after sleeping on a beach near San Luis Obispo, California.  A magnificent sunset had concluded my previous day, and now an eerie, yet calmingly invigorating, fog-shrouded morning greeted me.  I packed up my sleeping bag and backpack and headed for the highway.

In the parking lot, I met a woman, with bicycle and guitar case in hand, who had also spent the night on a different part of the beach, unbeknownst to me.  We swapped travel stories for a while, then I got back on the road heading north toward San Francisco.

This was a day of short rides, but the view of the Pacific Ocean from the cliffs was dazzling.  The fog by now lifted, and the end of each ride found me walking to the edge of the cliff to sit and reflect on the beauty of the desolate beaches and pounding waves.  It was also a time to write notes in my journal.

An afternoon ride took me past San Simeon.  The driver, a young guy and his wife, spotted a stretch of beach where elephant seals were basking in the sunlight and we pulled over.  Other cars were also pulled off the highway to watch.  We couldn’t get out of the car fast enough, the sight of the seals getting our adrenaline pumping.  We jumped a fence, then headed across a meadow to the beach.

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We watched the elephant seals, in awe of the brute strength of the 15 or 20 big adult males.  Occasional battles between them took place, but the rest of the herd of 1oo were peacefully lounging.  After a while, the couple was ready to leave.  “Thanks for the ride,” I said, “I think I’ll stay here.”

I sat at the edge of the beach and meadow, my eyes transfixed on this surreal group of animals.  An hour later, I heard a “Hello again”.  It was the woman from the parking lot.  She sat down and we shared the wonderment of this setting.

Several times before her arrival, the highway patrol had cleared the cars from beside the ride.  They were enforcing the “No Stopping or Standing” rules.  The road was narrow there, so they were doing their duty.

I told her of my plans to spend the night with the elephant seals.  She had the same idea, so we went back to the road to fetch her bike and pass it over the fence.

That night we sat on the beach, no more than 50 feet from the 3,000 pound males and 1,200 pound females.  She played her guitar, lulling the beasts with her soft voice and soothing melodies.  The ocean waves pounding rhythmically added to the music’s harmony.  Eventually, we each crawled into our sleeping bags as the symphony and inspiring day came to an end.  But to this day, I can still hear the gentle sounds of that night.

- Mountain Man

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

The most frequently asked question I get about hitchhiking is “What do you do if it rains?”.  I suppose my answer is either “Try not to get wet” or “I get wet”.

Actually, I’ve always been pretty lucky when it comes to rain.  It seems like I often arrived in an area at the conclusion of several days of rain.  The ground was saturated and there were puddles everywhere, but the rain was done.  I also had my share of getting into a car for a ride, and just then a deluge comes down.  Of course, I’m cruising down the road high and dry leaving the precipitation behind.

One notable rain event happened in Arkansas in 1994.  I was hitching along a small, rural state highway.  As my ride was coming to an end, I mentioned to the driver that I was torn between finding a bridge to get under, or camping outdoors.  He obligingly dropped me about 500 yards from an old bridge, now abandoned since the highway had been moved.  The rain had stopped and I could see some blue sky.  I made the decision to camp in this inviting field under a tree.

Bad move!  About two hours after dark, the sky opened up and lightning and thunder ruled the skies.  I huddled down in my sleeping bag as I pulled it as close to the center of my small one-man tent as I could.  I knew it wouldn’t be long before the water would begin seeping through the ceiling of the tent.

I was more worried about the lightning.  It was violently crashing nearby and the booms of thunder shook the ground.  With the ground now so wet, a lightning bolt striking the field would surely conduct high voltage through the entire field.

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The lightning continued for what seemed an eternity, but was probably less than an hour.  It was raining so hard that a little stream was now running right under – and through – my tent. My sleeping bag, tent, and everything else not packed tightly inside my backpack was saturated.

Finally, the storm abated.  A little while later, there were even breaks in the clouds where I could see the stars and the sliver of a moon.  I had endured.

When the first light of dawn finally arrived, I was ready to move from the now muddy field.  I quickly packed up, not caring if I put wet, muddy possessions into my backpack.  I could dry them later. 

The clothes I wore were soaking wet and it was only about 50 degrees outside, so I hoped for a quick ride in a warm car.  I got to the road, and the very first vehicle was a guy in a pickup truck and he stopped.  Moments later I was in the cab huddled by the heater.  I was moving west, I was warming!  That’s life on the road.

- Mountain Man

Pandering for Votes

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

With the presidential primary season in full swing, Democrat and Republican politicians exchange charges and point fingers at their in-party competition.  With so much bickering, it’s no wonder elected government office holders can’t accomplish anything meaningful.  It’s just late January and I’m already sick of the November, 2008 election.

Wouldn’t it be nice if political candidates would talk about issues.  I’m not talking about sound bites and cute little three sentence pat answers.  I’m talking about laying out a comprehensive plan to solve each problem and issue.  But no, that might alienate a few voters.  We can’t have solutions clouding the election.

I have been on the websites of most of the presidential primary candidates.  They’re junk!  They start with pictures of the family and a declaration of what church they belong to.  Stop it!  Enough of playing the religious card.  It’s pandering for votes.  Groveling to the vocal religious minority.

Read a candidate’s entire website and you’ll still have no idea what their solution is to issues.  “I won’t raise taxes.  I’ll start new programs.  I’ll upgrade healthcare, kick start new jobs, raise wages, lower gasoline prices.”  Blah, blah, blah.  Still, there’s no position paper telling the public how they’ll accomplish it.  Give me a break!

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Out in public on the election trail, you see the politicians visiting a senior center, hugging babies at a WalMart, or talking tough with workers in a poultry processing plant.  Get real!  You guys (and girl) are all millionaires.  You have nothing in common with these folks, real Americans.  You don’t struggle paying your bills, worry about being laid off from your job, or shop in WalMart.  All your senior friends own villas and yachts and belong to country clubs.

Unfortunately, until we have election reform and end private campaign contributions, we will only have millionaires in office.  Let’s face it, they make political decisions at black tie affairs, on the golf course, or in the back room.  The real American is not privy to those decisions.

What America needs is a president who’s been there.  Someone who worked through high school to afford clothes and college to pay their tuition.  Someone who has toiled through physical labor – like milking cows, waiting on tables, running a cash register, or hammering nails.  Someone who raised their own kids and changed their diapers, not someone who had a nanny to do that.

I want to see a regular person become president.  A down home, intelligent, honest person who puts the good of the country before the good of his political party.  Not a Democrat, not a Republic, but an Independent with a realistic chance to be a uniter.  A person not tempted by money, corrupted by power.  A person who understands the big picture, who wants to leave the world a better place for his grandchildren. A true philanthropist.

I’m available.

- Mountain Man

A Good Realtor

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Once in a while, I’ll get into a philosophical discussion with someone concerning “what makes a good realtor?”.  Sometimes it’s a client, sometimes another realtor, or sometimes someone you happen to meet that initiates this dialog and shares their thoughts.  Let me share mine.

The first criteria of a good realtor is honesty and being ethical.  Without those two ingredients, you can end this discussion.  We try to treat everyone as if they’re lifelong friends, almost kindred spirits.  I guess it’s a little of that “do unto others” thing, too.  As we are both hovering around 60 years old, we have reached the point in our lives where everything is about friendships.  It’s a certain bond that says, “I care about you”, and will look out for your best interests.

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The second criteria is sincerity.  Nobody likes a phony.  Be real.  When we tell someone something, we truly believe it.  Sometimes it’s not what they wanted to hear or expected to hear, but it’s what we perceive to be true.  If one of us is showing a prospective buyer a property and we don’t like it or think it matches their needs, we say so.  We don’t whitewash it, we don’t go along and keep silent just to get a sale.  We help you weigh the positives vs negatives.

The third criteria is enjoying what you do.  We both love being realtors, especially City Girl.  We both bounce out of bed in the morning anxious to get on with our day.  Our job is not a burden, but a pleasure.  And a challenge.  As baby boomers, we thrive on challenges.  It’s a generation thing, I guess.  Retiring just doesn’t seem to be in our future because we’re already doing the thing that makes us happy and gives us peace.

The fourth criteria is enjoying looking at properties.  We can both look at houses all day long.  My mother always jokingly told me, “Someday you’ll make someone a good wife.”  She was right, by gosh.  I appreciate kitchens, furniture, home decorating, flooring, etc - not typically “guy things”.  Curiosity also fuels our desire to see what a home looks like inside and out.

The fifth criteria is being proficient at the technical aspects of a real estate transfer.  Is the buyer’s mortgage process progressing?, is the home in a flood zone?, what expansions will zoning law allow?, does the roof need replacing?  There’s a hundred facets of a transaction that we must examine and successfully complete.

The final criteria is experience.  City Girl has been a realtor since 1978, me since 1996.  We are both brokers, a level above salesperson that required extra schooling.  We both have our GRI designations, again requiring extra schooling.  City Girl also has three more designations, all of which were earned through increasing her knowledge of the real estate business.

Experience also means practical experience.  City Girl once owned a hotel.  We once owned a bar/restaurant.  We both have been in retail and owned investment properties, and have a second home.  We’ve done renovation projects, I’ve worked for a surveyor, she’s been on the local zoning board for 20 years.  My point?  We’ve learned a lot of things in the real world that can’t be taught in books. 

No matter where you live in the country, a good realtor is a good realtor.  With one, you’ll make a friend for life.

- Mountain Man

To learn more about our agency, visit our website at http://www.JewellRealEstateAgency.com

The Excitement is Back in Wildwood

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Well, folks.  It’s back.  What’s that you ask?  It’s a feeling in the air, it’s that spring in your step.  Things are once again happening in the Wildwoods.  Our phones have been ringing since the start of the new year with people calling for information on our properties and wanting to make appointments to view them.  And, we’re not the only Realtors feeling that way.  The island is abuzz with activity. 

Remember back in 2001 when people were just starting to realize that the Wildwoods was the place to buy?  The prices were low, and you could buy a small one bedroom condo in the Crest for just $23,000.  Then prices started going up, and the crowds came and had to buy something before there wasn’t anything left.  We even had people come into our office and say, “I have to buy something today!”  Wow!

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As time went on we heard people say they missed the boat.  “I waited too long.  Property is out of my price range”, they moaned.  Well, you have another chance.  The time to buy is now.  Prices are stabilizing.  Interest rates are low and expected to go lower.  Inventory is going down.  Many of the best properties are being scooped up.  Fortunately, new listings are always coming onto the market. 

I took a client around to look at property last week.  Of the five properties we looked at, three went under contract in the next 2 days.  My client didn’t even have time to think about them before they were off the market.

A lot is happening in the Wildwoods.  Investors are once again putting money into the area.  Now is a great time to buy.  Don’t miss the boat again.

- City Girl

The World’s Best

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Just about everyone thinks that they’re the world’s best at something.  Admit it, don’t you think you’re the world’s best soda guzzler, television show critic, cell phone talker, make-up applicator, pizza eater, belly button lint remover, armchair pro football expert, or something?  Deep down inside, you feel you’re the cream of the crop at something.

I think I’m the world’s best long distance hitchhiker.  Maybe I’m really not.  But since there is no criteria, I will continue to reflect on my abilities and think no one is better.

I have hitchhiked over 20,000 miles in my life, logging enough miles to practically circumnavigate our planet.  But mileage isn’t what made me No.1, it’s what I learned it those miles that helped me refine my craft.  Let me share a few tips.

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When I hitchhike, I always make eye contact with drivers.  And if they pass me by, I just smile and look toward the next vehicle.  I don’t cuss them out or flip ‘em the bird.  My philosophy is that the ride I’m meant to get just hasn’t arrived yet to pick me up.

I always use a sign.  I make them from cardboard, which is always easy to find, and I always carry a magic marker in my backpack.  If I’m in a city, I’ll pick a destination about 50 miles away.  If I’m outside a city or out in the country, I’ll shoot for somewhere 200-300 miles away or more.  The bottom line is that I don’t want a ride that’s just a few miles away, especially if I’m standing in a good spot – one that offers good visibility and ample room for a car to pull over.

So let’s say I’m in Albuquerque, New Mexico heading east and my sign says “El Paso”, the westernmost city in Texas.  If I see a possible prospect checking out my sign, I pull another sign from behind the El Paso one and it says “Please”.  I’m looking for a reaction.  If I get a sympathetic look, I flip that sign over and it reveals the show stopper “Aw C’mon”.  That almost always solicits a smile.  A third of the time, it also gets me a ride.

Once in a car, you have to carry on a good conversation, while also making the driver feel at ease and not threatened that you’re a weirdo or mass murderer or something.  Never reach into your backpack, lest they think you have a gun.

With the right personality and gift for gab, which I have, the driver will open up to you.  In a half hour you both feel as if you’ve been lifelong friends.  More times than I can remember, a 300 mile ride has ended with me staying at their house for a night or two, getting fed the whole time, and even being taken out to meet their friends.  I’ve ended up the center of attention at numerous parties and bars.

My budget when hitchhiking is $4 a day.  Impossible, you think.  Actually not.  People are extremely generous.  They want to feed you, even give you money when you part.  I accept food, but never money.  I’m not in it for money, in fact I usually have hundreds of dollars stashed in my socks.  Four bucks a day can go a long way in a grocery store, especially if you live on fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

I’m into hitchhiking for the thrill, the adrenaline rush, the adventure.  Meeting new people, seeing new places.  Hitchhiking always restores my faith in humanity.  People, for the most part, are decent folks.  That rediscovery makes it all worthwhile.

- Mountain Man

The Neighbor

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

Earlier this month, January 2008, I traveled to our West Virginia cabin to spend a few days.  I needed to meet with our builder, our excavation guy, and cut a few trees to open up a mountain vista to the east. 

When I arrived at 9am on a Friday morning, the temperature was 6 degrees.  It had been 1 degree a few hours prior.  I worked throughout the weekend and accomplished my tasks.  By Monday, my last day, it was a balmy 62 degrees.  I decided to spend the day hiking and exploring.  I felt like a school kid skipping class!

There is a couple hundred acre parcel behind our 19 acres that leads up to the crest of the small mountain.  I had never explored it, so I headed up the mountain on our road.  Soon I was climbing over the gate onto the neighbor’s property.  There were no structures on the land, and only hunters ever went up there.

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I traveled up the dirt road, gradually gaining elevation.  Meadows opened up to the north, a sight I don’t see on our heavily wooded parcel.  Soon I was to an area where thick pine trees clustered along the north side of the road, but they grew from a 20-foot lower creekside area, so only the top 10 feet were exposed to me.  They shown brilliant light green in the full winter sun.

Suddenly, a large bird the size of a crow burst from one of the pines and landed in another 100 feet ahead.  Was that a pileated woodpecker?  Could it possibly be?

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I proceeded slowly up the road, knowing that I would come upon him again.  Sure enough, as I got close, he launched out of the tree.  His wings beating made a definite noise, almost a thumping.  They were so powerful that I swore I felt the vibrations.

His large size and pronounced red pointed head confirmed that it was a pileated woodpecker.  If indeed the ivory-billed woodpecker is extinct, then the pileated is now the largest woodpecker in North America.

He and I continued our hide and seek game.  Twice more he flew 100 feet at a shot, landing in the pines ahead of me along the road.  When he tired of my presence, he flew away from the road to the edge of a dense forest.  Each time, his wings beating foretold that he was airborne again.

Now he hung to the edge of the forest, heading parallel to the road and back where we started.  My view of his trajectory was unobstructed, so I continued to follow his progression.  I didn’t move a muscle except for the slight turning of my head.

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After 10 or 15 minutes, he finally flew deep into the woods.  I had seen him in flight six times.  I heard him fly three other times.

My hike continued another couple hours, but all the time I kept thinking about him.  How magnificent he was!  How fortunate I was to share some time with him.

I will be going back up the mountain the next time I’m in West Virginia.  I expect to visit my feathered friend again.  It’s the neighborly thing to do!

Mountain Man

For Sale By Owner

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

Every now and then we see that little red sign sitting in the window of somebody’s home.  “For Sale By Owner” it proclaims.  Occasionally, a person can pull off selling their home without the help of a real estate professional.  Just like sometimes a person can figure out what’s wrong with their car’s engine and fix it themselves.  But most of us leave that to a mechanic – an experienced professional!  He’s got the computer diagnostics and the right tools and knowledge.

A seller tries to sell their home without a realtor for one main reason.  They want to save on the commission.  The problem with that is that most buyers immediately deduct that same commission amount from what they feel the real price is.  If the property is listed at $500,000, the buyer already has the real asking price pegged at $470,000.  They’ve subtracted the 6% commission from the price.

So eight months later, a prospective buyer, the third to view the home, offers $420,000.  The seller feels somewhat insulted.  In negotiating face to face, it will be difficult for the seller to mask his annoyance with the buyer. 

Let’s say the two, somehow, eventually reach a verbal agreement on price.  A week or so later, the buyer submits his written offer that he has had prepared by his attorney.  The agreed upon price is there, but the contract is asking for the seller to take care of any repairs or treatments necessary due to termite inspection, septic inspection, water test, and home inspection.  The seller finds he could be on the hook for an unexpected $10,000 of possible remediation.

More tense negotiations, more animosity, veiled threats, more stress.  You get the picture.  The seller never saw it coming.

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Let’s back up and suppose the seller started by listing his property with a local, licensed real estate agent.  Upon signing the listing, the agent goes room by room and tells the seller what needs to be addressed to make the home more attractive to warrant the $500,000 price tag.  It’s just cosmetic stuff mostly, maybe touching up some woodwork with paint.  Outside, the leaves might need to be raked and that doggie poop cleaned up.

The agent now advertises the property in a number of effective Cape May County homes magazines.  Plus the realty’s internet site, which is also widely publicized and linked to chamber of commerce and other popular sites.  The  realtor also puts the property on a half dozen other high viewer websites.  This will lead to many potential buyers viewing the property.

Once negotiations begin with a buyer, the agent does your bidding.  You’ll often never meet the buyer until closing, so no hard feelings.  The agent can advise the seller as to contract conditions, inspections, down payments, etc.  Once the contract is signed, the agent oversees many details such as inspections, is the mortgage process progressing, survey, deed, the title company, etc.  You’ll even know your approximate closing costs before you ever sign the contract.

In the end, the price realized may be exactly the same, though it’s often more.  But consider the ease with which the transaction was completed.  No sleepless nights, no big surprises, no agata!  Wasn’t it worth it?

- Mountain Man

To find out more about what realtors do for you, visit our website at http://www.JewellRealEstateAgency.com

Open House

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

Real estate markets are quite localized.  While one area of a state may have a stagnant market, 50 miles away the market can be going along just fine.  The reasons are varied.  Vacation home markets, suburbs of cities where jobs are plentiful, or desired features like mountains, lakes, a river, or the ocean tend to make an area more immune to extended downside markets.

Here at the southern New Jersey shore, “vacation homes” and “the ocean” have fueled a real estate market rebound.  While some areas of the country are three full years into tough times and still struggling, our Cape May County region had 24 months of sluggish sales and now it appears to be headed back up.

Another distinction that the real estate market here has that other markets may not is that Open Houses don’t work.  Nope!  They’re a waste of time.

Statistics show that two-thirds of potential buyers do their research for a home on the internet.  With 121 million Americans having internet access, I suspect that number from my experience is more like 80% to 90% here in the Wildwoods.

People don’t come to the shore to search for a second home unless they are armed with MLS sheets detailing the properties that have caught their interest.  Their day is planned out – first a two hour drive to get here, then two properties to see, then lunch, then four more homes or condos to tour, then back on the road home.  They had appointments to view all six units.

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Meanwhile, a realtor is sitting somewhere in an open house.  There’s little or no legitimate traffic through the home.  The only visitors you get are nosy neighbors, folks who already own a vacation home here but are looking for ideas to improve that place, builders checking out the floor plan and extras to incorporate in their next project, or bored non-buyers walking to or from the beach.

At our real estate agency, we have discouraged our sellers from requesting open houses.  We try to explain to sellers that our time is better spent on Saturdays and Sundays in the office, where we attract more potential buyers.  We work the phones, show properties, and have a much better shot promoting that property.

The only open houses that work here are those in large tracts of new construction.  Locally, K. Hovnanian, Ryan Homes, Beazer Homes, amongst others, have projects with 15 to 200 units.  They staff an on-site office with their own sales people, and are generally open seven days a week.

Realtors, of course, can’t justify spending that much time in one condo or townhome.  So, obviously, being at an open house 11am-3pm on a Saturday or Sunday is hit or miss.  No, it’s miss!

- Mountain Man

To learn more about the real estate market in the Wildwoods, visit our website at http://www.JewellRealEstateAgency.com

Seapointe Village Resort, Wildwood Crest, NJ

Friday, January 25th, 2008

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                Gated Oceanfront Community

Seapointe Village is situated on 17 oceanfront acres and has the unique distinction of having a private beach along with 4 separate pool areas, 2 tennis courts, exercise room, sauna, steam room, hot tubs, BBQ grills, game room, playground for the kids, and 24 hour security all year for your peace of mind.  There is also underground parking for your vehicle.

Once you enter this paradise, you won’t want to leave. There’s something for everyone!  The oceanfront pool also has a small kiddie area for the little ones, a Jacuzzi with a waterfall, and hot tubs.  The beachfront is directly in front of the pool.  Spend some time basking in the sun on the beach, quench your thirst and hunger at the convenient concession on the beach, then cool off in the large pool.  Lifeguards are always present for your safety at the pools and on the beach.

The Centre Court multi-level pool is a family favorite.  Kids and parents alike love the water slide and Jacuzzi.  And, if you get hungry, the BBQ grill is right there available for your use. 

New in 2007, The Ibis Building opened along with an indoor/outdoor pool.  Rain or shine, the pool is open and ready for you to enjoy.

The Garden Building is aptly named for all the flowers and waterfalls surrounding it.  It’s located in the heart of the Village and also has a pool, hot tub and BBQ grill.  Each building in Seapointe has its own special flavor.  There are now 6 separate condominium buildings, many townhouses and even single family homes. 

Whether you’re looking for a vacation destination for you and your family or an investment, or both, this is one place you won’t want to miss.  Many units have a tremendous repeat clientel.  A typical 2 bedroom oceanview unit rents for more than $2800 per week. 

 We have a number of units for sale in several locations.  Please visit our website at http://www.JewellRealEstateAgency.com and see for yourself.  Oh, and don’t forget your sunglasses. 

- City Girl 

 

    

The Visitor

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Back in the early 1990s, I was traveling back to the East Coast after living in Missoula, Montana for a while.  As I headed through the rolling plains of eastern Montana in my truck, I enjoyed splendid views of pronghorn antelope and mule deer grazing in the fields.  There were also prairie dogs and a wide variety of songbirds, hawks, and ground birds.

I travel using US routes and state highways, as opposed to interstates, when possible.  It’s more scenic, it’s a two lane road instead of four so it’s easy to pull off to the side of the road, and passing through small towns gives a Rockwellian picture of Americana.

After traveling all day, I was in Wyoming on a very desolate highway.  The only people I saw were the occasional rancher in a pickup truck.  At dusk, I was in awe of the herds of pronghorn getting their last feeding before dark.  The magnificant sunset cast purple hues and long shadows on the mountains to the west.

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I was so overwhelmed by the mystical beauty of this area that I decided to just pull off the road to sleep under the stars.  I found a rancher’s access road to a field, backed in off the highway, and sat watching the day’s last light. 

The pronghorn were still grazing.  They travel like a gazelle rather than a deer.  They spring along, sort of a “boing, boing, boing” hop.  It seems so effortless, yet each spring covers 15 or 20 feet.

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At dark, I pulled out my sleeping bag and laid it beside my truck and climbed in.  After a half hour or so watching the stars, I fell fast asleep.

I woke up at first light, opening my eyes but not moving.  A feeling struck me, maybe you’ve had the same feeling before.  Someone was watching me!

I laid still, not moving a muscle.  Was some macho cowboy about to do me harm?  Was it the highway patrol or some sheriff?

But then I swore I heard breathing.  Heavy breathing.  What the heck was it?  Enough was enough.  I quickly sat upright to face my intruder.

It was a pronghorn antelope sniffing at the foot of my sleeping bag.  Our eyes locked, our faces just five feet apart.  My sense of relief and admiration played second fiddle to the pronghorn’s reaction.  He took off like a shot.  Boing, boing, boing.  Gracefully but with a sense of urgency he put a lot of distance between us.

His image stayed with me all day.  It still does.  I’ll always remember my close encounter with the ballerina of the high plains.

- Mountain Man

Bubba

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

I was hitchhiking in northern Georgia back in 1976 with my then wife, Mel, and dog, Osha.  Heading north, we got picked up by a 30-something Southern business man, named Drew, in a two-door Ford Galaxie.

A half hour into the ride, after he’d felt us out and decided we were decent folk, Drew offered to take us as far as Kingsport, Tennessee, in the northeast corner of the state.  Further, he proposed that we’d paint two interior rooms in his health spa in exchange for two nights in a motel, free food the whole time, $50, and a ride back to the interstate when we were through.  We liked him, so we agreed.

About 30 miles before Kingsport, he mentioned that he wanted to jump off the interstate to stop and see a friend.  We were fine with that, especially because we were on no particular time schedule.  When hitchhiking, you often gotta go with the flow.

Getting off the highway, he pulled into an Arby’s.  He fed us and himself, plus he bought two big roast beef sandwiches for Osha.  She was in doggie heaven.

We travelled up a bunch of back country roads before coming to an old-style saloon bar.  He said he’d be inside for 10 or 15 minutes and be right back.  So we sat and passed the time, with Mel riding shotgun in the front passenger seat and Osha and me in the back seat.

Out in front of the saloon were a bunch of good old boys, in their 30s and 40′s, looking like they were rode hard and put away wet.  I joked that they were probably all named Bubba and Junior.

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As we conversed, Mel had her head turned toward us in the back seat.  Over her shoulder, I noticed one of the Bubba’s heading toward the car.  I saw that he was sporting a holster and gun, as if he was part of Jesse James’ gang.  He walked between our car and the car next to us.

Suddenly he pulled the passenger door open, drew his gun, and put it to Mel’s head.  She turned her head to see who had opened her door, unaware that it was a gun that was pressed against her head.

Upon seeing her face, Bubba pulled back.  “I’m sorry,” he said apologetically.  “I could only see your long hair.  I thought you were my ex-wife.”  He holstered his gun, stuttering, “I saw you were in Drew’s car.  I thought he had taken up with my ex.  I’m really sorry, maam.”

- Mountain Man

Trickle Down

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Even as a realtor, I never fully grasped the implications of the real estate market’s influence on so many other occupations.  With the downturn, which here in Cape May County, New Jersey began in mid-2005 and seemed to turn the corner and head back up in mid-2007, the realization really hit home.

The slowdown in real estate sales affected, first, those who build new homes.  I’m talking about masons who put in the concrete footing, followed by a few coarses of block to get the home away from the ground and any possible flood situations.  Then there’s the framers, who frame out the house and cover it in plywood.  Then there’s the roofers to get the shell waterproof, followed by the siding guys to put up vinyl siding.

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Then there’s carpenters to install the windows and doors, and do other wood work.  Now the inside of the home is buzzing with electricians, plumbers, and heating and air conditioning crews.  After those tasks are completed, the drywall guys can enclose the inside walls and get them spackled.  Painters do their thing on the new walls in turn.

The kitchen requires installers of cabinets and countertops.  The kitchen and bathroom floors need a tile guy, and the bedrooms need a carpeting crew.  A carpenter lays down hardwood floors.

Finally, a landscaping crew sets irrigation lines and heads in the yard, then grass and shrubs are planted after the driveway is asphalted and concrete sidewalks are added. The house is ready.  It has used 17 different trades, employing about 40 workers.

The real estate industry also fuels title companies, attorneys, home inspection companies, termite inspectors, septic tank inspectors, water test companies, mortgage companies and bankers, and those professions called to fix a deficiency in the home revealed by one of those inspections.

The other aspect is all the companies who produce lumber, tile, carpet, concrete, block, roofing shingles, sheetrock, cabinets, granite and corian countertops, toilets, sinks, washers, dryers, refrigerators, ovens, microwaves, dishwashers, windows, doors, heating and air conditioning systems, and even televisions and such.  Wow!  If new home building is off from the previous year, that’s a lot of manufacturing income and jobs lost.

Now that the real estate market recovery has begun here at the southern New Jersey shore, it’s nice to know that so many folks will be getting back to work.

- Mountain Man

To learn more about our real estate market, visit our website at http://www.JewellRealEstateAgency.com

Curiosity

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Now that I’m in my late 50s, I find myself more often reflecting on life.  I sometimes flash to parallels between my actions in early life and how that influenced my later life.

I grew up in Wyckoff, a suburban town in Bergen County, the northernmost county in New Jersey that’s nestled next to and just west of New York City.  It’s there that I attended public school from kindergarten through the 10th grade, my “formative years”, so to speak.

I was in the advanced class from the first grade on.  We were the ones that were pushed, that the most was expected of.  We were to be the future businessmen, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc, the educators felt.

In the 5th and 6th grades, our entire class subscribed to the New York Times, which was handed out as we entered our class in the morning.  In those days, except for lunch and gym, we never left that one classroom and we had one teacher.  Our first subject of the day was always “Current Events”.  In it, students would raise their hand, then begin a discussion based on an article in that day’s NY Times.

I loved Current Events.  I was the first to raise my hand, covering subjects from the space race to President Kennedy to the United Nations to famines in Africa.  Little did I realize that my voracious appetite for reading the newspaper would 30 years later lead to me becoming a newspaper sportswriter, then sports editor, and even publisher.

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I also was crazy about Geography.  I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the states, then all the countries of the world.  Give me a blank map and I could fill in just about every state and country and most of their capitols.  Later in life, this curiosity would lead me to live as an adult in Florida, California, Oregon, Maine, Montana, North Carolina, and St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.

The other subject that I excelled in was Mathematics.  I’m almost embarrassed to say that I put little effort into it because it came so easy.  I was a wiz, but I can’t take credit due to hard work.  I guess my brain was just set up for math.  I ended up majoring in math in college, and my abilities in math have been a major factor in my life.

Needless to say, I usually got “A’s” in the three subjects I mentioned.  The credit goes to my curiosity.  I wanted to know more and more.  “How?” and “Why?” drove my brain to dissect subjects, dig further, learn more.  Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it pushed me to excel.

- Mountain Man

It’s un-American

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

The American business system is based on free enterprise.  You get an idea, then implement whatever is necessary to make that a successful business.  Hard work and ingenuity have their rewards, right?

Here in New Jersey, that’s not the case when it comes to starting a restaurant that serves liquor.  You see, the Garden State has quotas on liquor licenses.  Each municipality, if they allow liquor and many don’t,  is permitted one restaurant liquor license per 3,500 residents.  In my town of 18,000 yearround residents, that’s five restaurants that can serve liquor.

The only exception is the towns that had more liquor licenses than that before the quota took effect, which I believe was in the late 1970′s.  In the island town of Wildwood, winter population 4,400, there are probably 30 liquor licenses.

Back to my municipality, Middle Township, which is one of the five towns on the mainland in our county (the other 11 are island towns).  Our town is the county seat, and center of shopping, medicine, and the legal profession.  Plenty of restaurant chains would love to locate here – the one’s like TGI Fridays, Applebees, Olive Garden, Ruby Tuesday, Chili’s, Red Lobster, etc.  Nice family restaurants that serve liquor.  They can’t, of course, because there’s no liquor licenses available.

To get a liquor license in New Jersey, there are only two ways – your town’s population increases enough to hit that next 3,500 person plateau or you buy an existing license from another establishment that has closed.

When a town’s population does go up, the town auctions the new license.  The last one in my town sold for $660,000.  Yikes!  You gotta sell alot of beer to make that back.  A neighboring town auctioned one last year for $1.1 million.

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Buying an existing liquor license is either possible or not depending on the town.  I bought one of two licenses in West Wildwood in 2001 for $110,000.  That was considered a bargain, but the location wasn’t great.  I sold the bar and license in 2004.  The license went for $200,000.

In West Virginia, where our second home is located, the liquor license system is fair.  It costs $1,150 to get a full license, payable to the state, allowing you to sell beer, wine, and hard liquor.  Anyone with enough gumption can get a license.  It’s free enterprise at its best.  To the victors go the spoils.

The whole process in New Jersey is un-American.  Anyone who wants to start a restaurant or bar should be able to.  Then it’s survival of the fittest.  That’s the American way!

- Mountain Man

Good Time to Buy in the Wildwoods

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

The old adage in real estate is “location, location, location”.  But in the latter half of 2007 and now 2008, I believe the phrase should be “price, price, price”.

The media, while finally admitting that real estate trends are “localized”, isn’t exactly beating the drums to announce that the real estate market here at the southern New Jersey shore has rebounded.  The reason is clearly price.

That’s especially good news for first time home buyers, who were shut out of the market back in 2003 when prices wildly escalated.  In our market, sales prices rose 3% per month in 2003 and 2004.  That’s a whopping 36% a year!  So a home priced at $200,000 in 2002 jumped to $270,000 a year later and $360,000 in 2004.  Young couples just couldn’t afford it.  Neither could many families contemplating a second home in the Wildwoods.

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In the first half of 2005, prices rose another 1% per month.  So by July, that home was now $380,000.  With so many folks looking to cash out at these higher prices, plus people trying to buy new condominiums and flip them for a profit, the market suddenly had too much inventory.  The rest is history.

Prices stabilized in the second half of 2005, then dropped in 2006, although many sellers didn’t want to admit that the market had changed so they stuck to their high asking price …. and didn’t get it.  Their properties just sat on the market - few lookers, even fewer offers.

In 2007, reality appeared to set in.  Sellers dropped prices again and again, in increments of $20,000 or more each time.  That home we talked about that went from $200,000 up to $380,000, had now dropped back to a more respectable $260,000.  At that price, buyers got off the fence and started buying again. 

We have seen a big increase in business since mid-2007.  The phones are ringing again.  Buyers are walking through our doors.  Our fellow realtors are reporting the same upsurge in business.

So before prices start to creep up again, don’t you think it’s a good time to buy?  The price is right!

- Mountain Man

To learn more about our real estate market here in the Wildwoods and Cape May County, visit our website at http://www.JewellRealEstateAgency.com

The Mysterious Red Rag

Monday, January 21st, 2008

In 1976, I was hitchhiking east on Interstate 10 from San Diego, California with my then wife and dog.  It was about 85 degrees on this May 1st day.  East of San Diego, we got a ride in the back of a pickup truck from two guys in their 20s.  They would take us over the Alpine Mountains and let us off in Ocotillo Wells, a small desert town. 

By the time we hit the upper elevations of the Alpines, the temperatures had dropped into the 40′s.  Dressed in tee shirts, jeans, and sandals, we were quickly freezing our butts off.  As the truck hauled along at 75 mph, we pulled warmer clothes out of our backpacks and slipped them on.  We were shivering.

Eventually, we dropped out of the mountains and into the desert.  Before we knew it, the thermometer hit 100 degrees.  As we stripped down, I glance into the cab of the pickup truck and noticed it was filling up with smoke.

The driver swerved into the breakdown lane.  The passenger jumped out, then reached back into the cab under his seat.  He pulled out a red rag, like the kind that mechanics use, that had spots of oil on it.  It was smoldering and smoking like crazy.

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He threw the rag onto the side of the highway, stomped out the fire, left the rag, and we got back on our way east.  Soon we would reach Ocotillo Wells and the ride would end. 

Four hours and three rides later, we were in a van with a guy with long hair and a real long beard.  He asked us if it was alright if he got off the highway and went into a small town to buy milk and bread and a few other groceries to take home to his wife.  No problem.

He got off the interstate and headed to the general store.  A few miles later, just as we approached the store, the van began to fill up with smoke.  The driver urgently pulled to the gravel shoulder.  We jumped out of the van and I leaned back into the passenger side and reached under the seat. 

I yanked out a smoldering, red rag.  In fact, it looked like the exact same red rag that caught fire a couple hundred miles ago.  Same oil spots, same everything!  Was it the same red rag that we left by the side of the highway?  Was it deja vu?  I’m not sure, but we all had goose bumps!

- Mountain Man

Never Felt So Alive

Monday, January 21st, 2008

In listening to former soldiers give accounts of their battle experiences in World War II, Vietnam War, etc, I was always struck by a statement that was echoed by many.  “I never felt so alive”, they’d claim.  “I lived every moment.”

I didn’t really understand the meaning behind that sentiment.  Then, in 1976, I undertook my first long distance hitchhiking trip.  It would last  two and a half months, in which time I covered 9,000 miles along with my then wife and dog.

I’m not saying I was shot at (guns were pulled on us three times though), so my comparison is not that life hung in the balance at any moment.  Still, there were similarities.

Hitchhiking makes you vulnerable.  You’re traveling without the security of a vehicle.  You’re susceptible to weirdos, rain and lightning, biting insects, and that desolation feeling after spending four hours or so on a lonely road in the middle of the southwestern desert.

Evey morning when you wake up, you have no idea who you’ll meet that day, how far you’ll travel, and where you end up sleeping that night.  That anticipation is exhilarating, even exciting.

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Your awareness level becomes intensified.  Standing by the side of the road, your eyes lock on every approaching vehicle.  You pick up their “vibes”.  Are they good people, or do they have bad intentions, a certain darkness about their character?  If your senses are hyperactive, you become a good judge.

The relationships you form with folks who give you a ride, though they last only a few hours, are inspiring.  There’s a feeling of “I’ll never see you again”, so they blurt out personal things about their life that they’d never tell a spouse or friend.  You’re a sounding block, an impartial ear.

Long distance hitchhiking isn’t for everyone.  It takes someone who is confident in their abilities and self assured.  But if you’ve got those ingredients and give it a try, you’ll find that you never felt so alive.

- Mountain Man