This is my attempt at blogging. I'm still learning about the blogging world, and this is my own personal study hall.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Bubby Chronicles, Volume 2

Well, I said I'd come back with more about Bubby, and that it would be a happy or funny story.

Tonight we discuss the wheelchair at the airport.

Bubby was 87, as I have mentioned. But she was not like your typical 87 year old lady. Bubby was active. Now, I know people say these things about old people - "he was so young at heart"; "she was very active"; "he was young-spirited"; "she was always out and about". This traditionally means that the old fart in question would putt around in the garden for a couple of hours a day and play with his or her grandchildren. Naturally Bubby did these things herself. But she wasn't all old. I have a picture of her that I have shown people, and gotten a response of shock and awe. They can't believe that in the picture, in which Bubby is blowing bubbles on the dance floor of our wedding, is an 85, almost 86 year old lady. I'll have to digitize the picture and upload it in a future edition of The Bubby Chronicles. Bubby took an Israeli dance class with my mother. My mother had a harder time with this class than Bubby, because my mother has had problems with her feet for some time. Bubby, on the other hand, had no such problems and danced her heart out. She danced at our wedding. Bear in mind, we're talking about an Orthodox Jewish wedding. If anyone is unsure just what this means, watch this video of a friend's wedding. We Orthodox Jews know how to party at a wedding.

Anyway, that was all background. This is the story I wanted to tell:

Bubby was once travelling, visiting one grandchild or another. For some reason she was flying standby. She gets to the gate, and gets herself on the list early and is told she's first for a standby seat. It turns out there is one standby seat available, and as Bubby gets herself ready to go, another "old lady" is wheeled up to the gate, and gets the spot. Well, this is unfair. This lady isn't any older than Bubby - in fact we think she may have been younger! Well, from then on Bubby required a wheelchair at the airport. Let me emphasize this point. She did not NEED a wheelchair. She REQUIRED it. In other words, she demanded it. She played the "old lady" card. She went for walks several times a week - miles long. But at the airport she was not going to just stand around while other old ladies got pampered just because today's generation thinks that an old lady in a wheelchair will break if not catered to on hand and foot. After all, she put in her time, and it was time she got something out of all of those years.

Oh, and by the way, this story is only a couple of years old. Yeah, she was feisty.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Buying a Home, part 2

OK, first, in response to my good friend Koppie:

You're talking about San Francisco. I'm talking about "Kemp Mill" in Silver Spring, Maryland. Come visit us and you'll see what I'm talking about. There's really no comparing the ridiculousness (if that's a word) of the over-pricing in our neighborhoods.

Second, back to what I was saying in my previous post:

I want to start a revolt. I want to rebel against the real estate industry, which has a strangle-hold on our society, and is destroying the American Dream of land/home ownership. Now, the real estate industry is certainly not the only party at fault in this. The lending institutions keep on finding new ways of destroying people's lives, in addition to making it difficult for most and impossible for many to own their own homes, particularly in even the most mildly desirable of areas. In fact, if we didn't absolutely need to live in a neighborhood where we could walk to a Shul, we would never even talk about buying a house here. They are ugly (have I mentioned that yet?) But we want to live near DC, and that basically means we have to live here. There are other neighborhoods near DC that have nicer homes, but they aren't any cheaper. Some are astronomically more expensive. So here we are.

My rebellion will be along these lines:

First - we (that is anyone discussing buying a home) have to agree to significantly undercut the asking price of any house or plot of land. And I mean SIGNIFICANTLY. If we all bid at least $200k below the asking price, eventually the sellers and their agents will get the idea - the bubble has burst. Another way to accomplish this is to agree to initially bid no more than 40% of the asking price, and not to outbid one another by more than 5% at a time, with a cap at 60% of the asking price. We need to recognize that there are other homes available. There are always old people looking to retire in Florida, always middle-aged people looking to move to a smaller place after their kids have moved out, always people who need to relocate for work. The only reason the prices are so ridiculous now, is that the agents have us convinced that we will lose the house if we don't bid higher. And the reason they're right is because they've convinced the other bidders of the same thing. (Did you know that the law, as currently written, states that a real estate agent can tell a bidder that another bid has been made, but can't tell the bidder what that other bid is? This means the second bid can be $150k less than the first bid, but the idea of another bid existing will drive the first bidder to raise his bid even higher. This is supposed to prevent corruption and hyper-inflation of the price!)

Second (particularly if the first step doesn't work) - anyone who has bought a home at an exorbitant price should file and join a class-action lawsuit against the agents who inflated the prices of the homes they bought. This would get complicated. Someone would have to come up with an estimated amount of money that was unfairly and unethically pressured out of the buyers' hands at the time of purchase. They could work out some average amount that everyone would share, or some system to divide the money based on how much each buyer lost.

Third (particularly if the first and second steps don't work) - we should start up a group representing home buyers. There is already a Home Builders Association and a Realtors Association, why not a Home Buyers Association? Here and now, I am declaring the establishment of the National Home Buyers Alliance. Our goal is to represent home buyers and prospective home buyers, and anyone who hopes to become a home buyer in the future, to demand tighter restrictions on the tricks that real estate agents can pull to unfairly and artificially inflate the prices of homes, and to try to get laws passed that require one of the following, or some combination thereof:

a) Lawyers, not real estate agents, one representing each side, negotiate and haggle over the price of the home, and earn a flat fee - NOT A COMMISSION.
b) Real estate agents haggle over the price of the home, and earn a flat fee - NOT A COMMISSION.
c) Real estate agents cannot represent both sides of real estate transactions, not the same transaction and not other transactions - this means they represent either buyers or sellers, not both. Ever. They are no longer "real estate agents". They will be "real estate buyers agents" or "real estate sellers agents".

Look, I have good friends whose families have long histories in the real estate industry. I don't want to harm anybody. I also do not mean to suggest that real estate agents are to blame for the way things work, or that real estate agents are criminals or crooks. They are not. They work completely within the law. But the law breeds corruption and unfairness. It's gotten out of hand and the system needs to change dramatically.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Buying A Home

OK, so that's a misleading heading. We're in no position to buy a home right now for a number of reasons, not the least of which the fact that I still don't have a real job. In fact I have to write quickly because I have to run off to my fake job in a second. I'm giving myself less that 10 minutes, so here goes:

Everyone I talk to about buying a home is infuriated. The houses in our neighborhood are hideously ugly. For some reason, the houses that for years hovered within a $50k range doubled, tripled, and in some cases quadrupled in price over the last four years. And they're ugly. The whole neighborhood was built by the same architect in the late '50s, and the man had a crazy infatuation with split levels. He apparently won an award, in fact, but not for the houses' aesthetic beauty. He won an award for their sturdiness and durability. This is rumor, so I can't say this for sure, but apparently this also means that it costs a lot more than normal to remodel the houses.

So if you buy a house in our neighborhood, you're spending a MINIMUM of $495k for a fixer-upper. That's crazy. There was one house that was going for under $450k, but not only was it a fixer-upper, but it had black mold and no land. Or something. And it was ugly.

I've spoken with a number of people who bought houses in the last year or two and they have told me that they did so because they realized the market would never drop and that if they didn't buy then, they'd get frozen out. And they recognize that their houses are ugly. They hate that fact but they wanted to be home owners, and that was it.

Here's why I'm writing about this. I want to know why it's legal for real estate agents to jack up the prices. How can it be legal for one agent to represent both sides of such a large transaction? How can it be legal (when there are two agents) for the buyer's agent to essentially be working for the seller by earning half of the seller's agent's commission? This is absolutely absurd! Is there another industry where major transactions, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, are negotiated for both parties by a person who earns a commission based on a percentage of the sale? I can't think of one. I've got to go, but more on this later.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Bubby Chronicles, Volume One

Unfortunately, my Bubby passed away two weeks ago. There's a lot I would like to write about her, but it can't all fit in one blog post, so I'm going to break it up into different parts. It may or may not go in any particular order - I haven't decided yet. But here is Volume One of The Bubby Chronicles. Enjoy.

Today I think I'll just get something off my chest about the way Bubby passed away. Some days I'll write about her life, about her sayings, about her musings, about her philosophies, or about her death. Today I'm going to write about the way her illness and death affected her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

One of the most frustrating things to all of us with regard to Bubby's death was not so much the fact that she actually passed away. Of course we all loved her and we were all devastated by her death. But it was her illness and its progression that most hurt everyone to watch. You see, Bubby just didn't get sick. Bubby had kidney stones in 1991 and, aside from that, the last time she'd been in the hospital was when she gave birth to my Aunt Sue. Aunt Sue, much to her own chagrin, is in her 50s.

It may strike you that 50 years without a hospital visit is a long time. That's because it is. Bubby virtually never got sick. She smoked for decades and never developed any smoking related problems. I don't remember her ever having a cold or the flu, or complaining about anything other than her weight and men running the world. It was so long that she didn't have a personal physician.

So when Bubby actually had a serious health crisis last summer, congestive heart failure, it was really scary. But on the other hand, we figured she'd recover. Well, everyone but the doctors she saw figured she'd recover. That's because the doctors saw an 87 year old lady who was weak and frail and had just had congestive heart failure, instead of a woman not even 3/4 of the way through her life, who had only a year earlier danced up a storm at our wedding. She got rocked by this thing, and it was very depressing to watch. Talk about irony - her fantastic health her whole life convinced her she didn't need to waste time visiting doctors, which meant she didn't have a personal physician, which meant that the doctors who were treating her for her condition last summer and onward were strangers, who didn't know that she was really not this frail, weak, nursing home-bound, old lady. Had they fully understood that, fully appreciated that, I think they would have worked much harder to get her back up to speed, to where she was, not just to keep her alive for a few more months.

Well, I think that's all for now. Sorry it's so depressing at the end. Next time I'll try a funny story.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Just a quick quote from my cousin Allan.

"Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he'll be warm for the rest of his life."