There have been some news stories lately on the insensistive and flat out bigoted names given to customers by restaurant servers on their receipts. One of them was documented at a Papa Johns, where the receipt said “lady chinky eyes” and the company did the right thing and publicly apologized on Facebook

Of course, when I clicked on the Papa Johns Facebook page, I saw that some guy thought that it would be funny to pile on to the original offense and add not one, but two more asian jokes in the comment section. Dustin Ehrlich, of Lincoln, Nebraska, apparently thought that the jokes, in the screenshots attached, would be hilarious enough to post for all the world to see. 


Now, perhaps this is just youthful intemperance. Or maybe someone posted under his name on an open laptop at his house just for kicks. Maybe. But if that happened, the joke is in the revelation, not the secret, and he never removed the remarks 11 months later. And take one look at his home page wall and you’ll see more racist and sexist timeline photos and group “likes.”  

Perhaps someday Dustin will google his name and find this page and learn a valuable lesson in social media. Perhaps a girl he asks out or perspective employer will do the same. That will be another lesson. My wife is 100% American. She was raised in Queens and is of Korean descent. She has borne the brunt of these jokes for years. So, as the father of children who are not 100% caucasion, and the husband in a marriage that might be considered illegal in some places a few generations ago, I find Mr Ehrlich’s jokes to be really not funny, and those that know me know that I love a good laugh. 

I want my children to grow up in a better world than one where someone like Dustin can get a cheap laugh at their expense. 

This is a copy of the NAR email sent out to brokers to lobby Congress to vote against the QRM initiative, which would have a negtaive effect on the housing market.

QRM email

One of the unique pieces of local lore attached to Ossining is the Leatherman, a well known drifter seen for decades around Westchester and Fairfield counties in the late 1800s who is buried in Sparta cemetery.

His origins were largely unknown. He was unique: a quiet, itinerant wanderer who walked a 365 mile loop through the Hudson Valley and Connecticut clad entirely in leather, slept in outdoor shelters of his own making, he seldom spoke (and when he did, it was often in French) and revealed little about himself. What we do know of him is largely derived from old newspaper records mentioning his comings and goings, and the odd word of mouth stories passed through the generations. I learned of the Leatherman in the late 1970’s from my scoutmaster.

He was kindly and helpful but immensely private. While a vagabond, he was well regarded enough for many towns to exempt him from local vagrant statutes, and he came and went freely. He died in 1889 near Ossining, and was buried in a pauper’s grave in Sparta Cemetery on Route 9. Recently, the Ossining Historical Society petitioned the court to move the grave due to its close proximity to the widening highway, and to exhume and study his remains for any forensic DNA evidence of his true ethnicity and perhaps his medical condition.

Over the protests of some, the exhumation took place May 25, 2011 and his grave was dug up and relocated to higher ground on the small, historic cemetery, further in from the road. The Leatherman had the last say in the exhumation. The fiercely private, enigmatic old soul will remain a mystery- all that remained of his corporeal form was the soil and a few coffin nails.

It won’t go to print until this Sunday’s paper, but the article that Iblogged about expecting is now live online. Entitled “A For Sale Sign with Brains,” the piece discusses how real estate brokers are embracing technology to sell property. The story behind the article is actually not one of the reporter finding my blog, but rather, another broker at another company who is.

Barry Kramer, broker owner at Westchester Choice Realty and my friend, was contacted by the reporter and he suggested that she contact me because he considered me a tech savvy agent. She did. We had a good interview where I told her how I saw our technology toolbox evolve since my entry into the business in 1996, and the photos were taken two days later.

For the shoot, a filmed a walking tour of the home at 374 Quaker Road in Chappaqua, put it on Youtube, and then, on my mobile printer, created a brochure with a QR code that would connect a smart phone to that Youtube tour. This would enable the consumer to see the house and get questions answered without having to make a phone inquiry. I am in the process of doing more of these walking tours on other listings. They work, as the listing where we did this tour has already been given an offer.

The piece has three photos of me in the online version, plus a great one of the house, and we’ll see what makes the paper Sunday. I am of course very humbled that Barry would suggest me to the reporter, and while I still encourage Barry himself to blog because I think he’d be great, I am happy he reads my work.


Rob Hahn has written an extremely thought provoking piece on the role that broker commissions play in the pricing of real estate. It isn’t what I originally thought when I read the title- I was expecting a “commission is just a markup” but it wasn’t about that at all. It did get me to wonder aloud, however, if there is a seller out there that would, in exchange for no commission, retain a broker and then just pay billable hours until the house sold.

I am in the field. Rob’s article is eye opening. If I were to charge $X per hour for my services, would the seller have the house sit out there speculating on a high price? Or would we skip months of messy rooms, denied showing requests, subjective speculation pricing and get serious? I think if they paid billable hours, the answer would be the latter.

Essentially, the commission I charge is categorized under the risk being proportional to the reward. Low risk, low reward. High risk, high reward. Which is why the broker fee line item in a transaction I broker is among the larger numbers. In forgoing the commission for billable hours, the seller essentially shares the risk. If the house sells fast, there is a huge savings. If it does not sell quickly, the seller could pay as much or more. Facing that reality, they would be far more likely to be proactive participants, keep the house clean, price realistically and accept all showings.

Less than motivated sellers often figure that they lose nothing if the broker fails to sell the home because commission is only paid at a closing (they actually do pay a hefty price in the form of a stale listing, but that is for another post). That explains overpriced listings, denied appointments and a host of other things that drive Realtors batty.

If the seller shared the risk and traded commission for billable hours, overhead would plunge- less time on market, fewer hours devoted to pushing overpriced listings, far smaller marketing budgets, and a more streamlined process. The only caveat here is that you couldn’t go half and half with some listings on commission and others not, because you’d have the worst of both worlds- the commissioned listings would not sell and the hourly deals would have their profit eaten by the overhead of the stale stuff.

Will sellers share the risk? Or, more likely, as much as they bristle at the line item of the commission, do they know it really is the price of they pay to have brokers roll the dice the way we do now? I believe in the power of market forces. An organically better idea would spread like wildfire if it truly had merit. Billable hours, while a great theory, will never work so long as the vast majority of sellers would see trading the commission for higher personal accountability as out of their comfort level.


Unlike most of the US, in Westchester and the surrounding areas of New York real estate contracts are prepared by attorneys only after a process of offers, inspections and due diligence. Other than mortgage, contracts are non contingent. There is not even a deposit of any kind until contracts are signed. It is not at all unusual for an accepted offer to wait 2 weeks for fully executed contracts.

Most of the time, therefore, offers are submitted on company letter head with terms specified and accompanied by a pre approval. The more specificity, the better. Sellers are rightly very reticent to accept any offer without assurance of the buyer’s ability to perform, especially since we are required to disclose an accepted offer per the code of ethics even with nothing signed.

Every so often, I get an offer from an agent over the phone. They say they are buyer agents, but I really don’t see how a verbal offer, without clear terms and a pre approval, sheds the best light on the buyer’s ability to perform. If anything, it makes the agent seem indifferent and the buyer either unforthcoming or uncooperative.

The old rationale that “I don’t want to waste my time writing up an offer if it isn’t going anywhere” is ironic- the best way to make sure an offer goes nowhere is to make a halfhearted, verbal offer with a mystery buyer. If you want to make that sale, you have to do work- it isn’t a waste of time, it is your job.

I wish I had a nickel for every time this has been said in our industry, but it has never been more relevant than now: put it in writing.

In the almost 400 transactions I have brokered since first being licensed in the 1990s, anytime there was a problem with the mortgage and the buyer was asked how they chose their lender, I cannot think of one instance where they did not say some variation on the theme that the bank was chosen for quoting the best rate.

In the almost 400 transactions I have brokered since first being licensed in the 1990s, anytime we noted that a mortgage loan officer did a great job and the borrower was asked how they chose their lender, I cannot think of one instance where they did not say a variation on the theme that the lender was a referral from a trusted source.

Now, since I can point to dozens and dozens of transactions where the lender stunk and they were chosen for their rate, and there were also dozens of great jobs by lenders who were trusted referrals, the correlation strikes me as very strong that choosing a lender based on rate alone is inadvisable. Disclosure: I was a loan officer from 2001-2005.

Sadly, the “best rate” is a myth. The factors that go into locking a mortgage rate include the down payment, credit rating,  debt to income ratio, length of the loan, and a variety of other matters which makes quoting a prospective borrower a rate on the first meeting without a full application irresponsible at best. Published rates are based on assumptions that are so ideal that most borrowers either don’t qualify or must pay higher costs to achieve.

Moreover, rates vary on a daily and often an hourly basis based on the bond market and other financial indices, requiring extreme personal attention and knowledge of the transaction process to assist the borrower in “locking in” their rate at the correct time.

Lastly and perhaps the most bitter irony of it all is that most consumers don’t understand that the lenders all operate in the same market for money. If you walk into the corner bank, Banana Funding Corp at the mall, or log onto Fancyrates.com and ask pricing on their 30 year fixed conventional rate for a conforming loan with 20% down payment, you may get different answers when you ask what rate you’ll qualify for. But here’s the truth: conventional loans have been bought on the secondary market by Government Sponsored Entities (GSEs) such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for the same prevailing market rates since the Beatles dominated rock music. The only variations have ever been the profit margin. What’s that mean to you? Simple: within reason, you can negotiate your rate.

With those factors in play, the smart consumer should therefore find the best, most trustworthy, service oriented lender they can find, who will work hand in hand with the real estate brokers, appraisers, title and attorneys, and who will be able to troubleshoot and navigate obstacles as they arise. This not only ensures a smooth transaction, it shields the borrower from bait and switch moves, junk fees, last minute changes, and the lack of accountability that we all too often see in web-based bargain lenders that raise screwing up deals to a high art.

Imagine that. You choose you lender the same way you choose the agent, attorney, inspector and plumber: the best person for the job. The numbers take care of themselves because a true professional will always watch out for you.

Every first of the month Ronnie, our administrative assistant, arrives at the office and begins the daunting task of addressing letters to several hundred homeowners whose listing expired at the end of the previous month. One of the good people who came off the market on November 30th called me and we met just this evening to see how I could help them sell. The details of why homes do not sell are not unfamiliar to me; price is certainly a big reason, but there are often other fatal mistakes the prior agent made that punctuate the home’s failure to sell. In this case, the home’s MLS data indicated as the size of the yard as “0 acres.” In other words, anyone who put the yard size in their search criteria would not find the house. Not good.

In discussing the options facing the home owners and what could be done to get the house sold, I was impressed with one of the seller’s concerns about the feelings of their prior agent. They didn’t get the job done, and they didn’t have my record in sales, but all the same she felt bad about letting them go after they tried so hard and were so nice.

I have to say, I wish more people cared about my feelings the way she cared for theirs. This is a woman with a good heart. I told her that this is business, not personal, but she was still kind of bummed about her old agent.

I wish there were more people like her. We spoke about it more, and the thing she acknowledged in our discussion was that it doesn’t take a cold and calculating person to make a smart business decision. You can still be a good person and do what is right in a business sense without being mercenary. Being good to people is important. That does not mean, however, that you subordinate your financial health and well being to appearing nice. If the right thing for her is to get a new, better broker, she owes it to herself to do so.

Selling a home is serious business. And it is not a vehicle for relationships. It is something some people do but once in their lives, and they owe it to themselves to have the best representation, even if their prior agents were cordial and nice. Huge money is involved, and there are no do-overs once a closing is over. I would say that all people should have a good agent, but good people especially deserve a good agent. I know of no other Westchester agent that sells more homes that previously expired with other brokers than myself. It is what we do, what we excel at, and how we grow the company in these rough times. When we do get started with this particular family, we’ll get them the results they very richly deserve.


With a median home price hovering near $700,000, even a modest price reduction on a Westchester County home can be tens of thousands of dollars. I have to approach a reduction with the diplomacy of a funeral director but be as convincing as a physician imploring his patient to quit smoking.

No one could predict after the stimulus where prices would go, but it is clear that what few buyers we have are skimming the absolute cream off the top and leaving the rest. They even fight over the good stuff, creating an illusion of urgency in isolated precincts. Overall, sadly, median home price is an illusion; it is a metric of the value of those few, unique sought after homes that people watch even when they weren’t on sale. They needed nothing. They were priced to the bone for their category.

Money lost in a price reduction was never your money. It was an illusion. It didn’t exist. I find myself, more and more, explaining to mournful sellers that the $25,000 that went down the drain when they went from $624,900 to $599,900 was a paramour that never loved them. She never cared, Johnny. The baby wasn’t yours. She wanted to close the Copa and make sure you never worked in this town again. For God’s sake man pull yourself together, it was all an illusion.

You know, that sort of thing they cover day 2 in licensing class. Or not.

In 2005, 852 single family homes sold in Westchester County with a median price of $732,000.

In 2010, 424 single family homes sold in Westchester County with a median price of $715,000. 428 people got nothing.

The pool of able buyers has shrunken by an absurd amount. Millions of prospects have vanished due to either their own disasters or the new draconian lender underwriting guidelines. What few buyers remain are skeptical, drunk with options, terrified of making a mistake, have no confidence in the future, and are heavily invested in the group think notion that they must get a steal or they will be exposed to grave financial risk. You know, all those happy things perspective home buyers have always focused on.

Here’s the reality: If you are multiple listed, staged well, tidy, and have been on the market for 60 or 90 days with no offers or few lookers, the market has spoken; you need to reduce your price. You aren’t the McClotchkees down at the end of the cul de sac who sold in the first 30 days. They had something, or ten things, you don’t have. And the only adjustment you can make to the buying public is price. A feature ad won’t do it. A newspaper display ad won’t get it done. Busting your agent’s chops to chase down Gladys Pflarphlingston for feedback on a showing 2 weeks ago won’t do it. If you are on the MLS, I can show you how many people have clicked on you online and clicked off every week since we listed. You aren’t a secret. Quite the opposite: with public searches, serious prospects can tell me their opinion of your toothpaste.

If we are in showing condition with my marketing and you aren’t sold, the faster we address price the faster we’ll sell. The money you are asking for is not on deposit in the bank of buyer opinion.

Originally posted at: J. Philip’s Westchester Real Estate Blog: The Money You “Lost” in Your Price Reduction Wasn’t Real