Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's Eight O'Clock...Do You Know Where Your Local Realtors Are?

Long ago, when Your Humble Narrator toiled in the mass media trenches, he was assigned to write a feature on a husband and wife realty team.  They'd been a fixture in town for years, were considered progressive employers, and had a good reputation. "Not a problem," Your Humble Narrator replied. "Sounds like a piece of cake."

My 45 minutes with the Dynamic Duo of Realty passed pleasantly enough, covering all the usual bases of what they thought it took to succeed in the housing marketplace.

At some point, the male half had to take a call, and his wife weighed in with a pungent observation of her own: "When we interview anybody who wants to come here, we require them to have at least three months of savings."

"And you require that, because..." I asked.

"Well, look at this way: you might take a year to sell your first house," she responded.  "That's how it was for me.  You've still got to pay your bills, what else are you going to live on?"

"Fair point," I agreed.  "So it's not just about showing houses, and taking 'em on tours, eh?"

"Not quite, no." She pursed her lips, paused briefly, and went on. "A lot of people come through here, thinking, 'This sounds like such a nice job, showing people houses, and making money doing it.'  Well, it's not like that."

She pursed her lips yet again. "You're working nights, you're working weekends, you're working Sundays, and all this time, you're showing a house that may not sell. It's a tough business."

I remember hearing those comments around 2001-02, a good six or seven years before the Housing Bubble burst, and your local realtor had ample grounds for slitting their wrists.

Judging by a couple of articles that The Reckoner has come across,  the profession hasn't gotten much more fun, such as this cheery observation from "Business Insider" ("The 19 Jobs Where You're Most Likely To Kill Yourself"):
According to the National Association of Realtors, members' incomes have decreased from $52,200 in 2002, to $34,100 in 2010, although the association stated that realtors' median incomes rose slightly, by $800, from 2010 to 2011.

Obviously, your prospects depend greatly on where you're plying your trade, as this article about the "6 Most Stressful American Citieis" in Realtor magazine suggests:

Notice something missing?  All three states profiled (Florida, Michigan and Nevada) continue to struggle with high foreclosure rates, as this "CNN Money" article makes clear:

You'd think that foreclosure would amount to a major stressor by itself -- what's scarier, being put in that situation, or reading a trade publication that doesn't even acknowledge the problem?

At any rate, while the "CNN Money" article suggests that there's some improvement on the horizon, nobody should feel ready to break out the marshmallows quite yet.  For realtors, there's definitely a lot of hard work ahead in most markets before anybody can say that the worst is over.

Even without the backdrop of foreclosure rates and other social issues to consider there's still the reality of living on commission. As my interviewees noted so long ago, you don't get a dime until the sale goes through -- if it goes through.

And that's before we raise those nettlesome issues of health and retirement benefits, which is a "YP" (Your Problem), not an "MP" (My Problem), at least from Uncle Sam's point of view. Nowadays, you might be waiting six months for that first paycheck, as this gent from the Seymour Herald suggests:

I did some checking online recently, and it seems that my interviewees are still active in the business.  Having seen the toxic trends that we've all witnessed over the last five years, I'd love to go back and get their reflections now...and, while I'm unsure how candidly they'd speak, one bet seems certain...

...I suspect that they'd probably require more than three months' savings for any new realtor coming aboard. --The Reckoner

Monday, October 15, 2012

Exile In Waltonville (Buy Local: Bring Community Back)

Life in Waltonville seems to be getting stressful these days...after all, when you're tagged as "The Merchant Of Death," it "rather casts a pall of gloom on the whole evening," as our friends in Monty Python would say.

That's before we get to the box office, where Wal-Mart has struggled to reverse profits that have hovered southward for much of the past three years. With the proles having less and less discretionary income to unload on cheap T-shirts, plastic flip-flops and fuzzy dice made in Bangladesh, it's hardly surprising that Wal-Mart reinstated layaways with a proverbial bang, after ditching the practice in 2006.

As if that news wasn't bad enough, those pesky wannabe unions are threatening to organize walkouts on Black Friday -- which falls on the day after Thanksgiving, and is considered the year's biggest money-spinner for retailers (at least, the ones that didn't expire when Walton & Co. gate-crashed their town).  For all the gory details, read here:

What do these workers want? The same rights that Wal-Mart begrudgingly bestows to their peers around the world -- such as flexible schedules, higher wages, and some sort of say in how things run. Ironically, Chinese law requires Wal-Mart to recognize union membership -- how galling is that, its overlords must wonder, when we busted our asses to expand over there? -- a figure that rises to 40 percent in Argentina. 

You can read the rest here:

In South Africa, Wal-Mart actually struck a deal with the government to finalize its acquisition of the local Massmart chain there -- including a promise to avoid layoffs, honor existing contracts, and use local suppliers whenever possible. It'll be interesting to see how the Black Friday campaign that's being promised by Our WalMart, and Making Change At Walmart, moves along. So what's the cure, exactly, other than taking up residence in Buenos Aires, or Beijing?

In our community, The Squawker and I have seen several boots-to-the-ground thrift shops and resale stores spring up.  None of these places are particularly fancy, either. For example, one thrift store happens to inhabit the lower level of a bygone business whose owner made precious little progress rehabbing (hence, the exposed roof that tasted the wrecking ball, however briefly). 

Then there's the boxlike resale shop that we visited a couple weeks ago -- ironically, located onlya mere parking lot-and-a-half away from Wal-Mart -- where we scored a discarded office chair for $3, and for me, a mint condition copy of the Replacements oral bio (All Over But The Shouting), which set me back only a buck. I'll have to check and see if those stacks of locally-pressed Christian music albums are remotely sellable, but that'll probably wait for another trip.

The point is, when you spend money at these places -- or any other locally-owned business, for that matter -- you know whom you're supporting, where your money's going, and (more critically) where it's likely to stay. Everything's within grabbing distance, sparing the experience of trudging across the antiseptic big box tundra...which feels (to yours truly) like touring an aircraft carrier. You can talk, hang out and rummage to your heart's content. Even if you don't buy a bloomin' thing, you'll probably feel better about where you burned up your time.

Obviously, not every local business carries whatever their big box brethren feel obliged to make you acquire by the truckload (der, how else will you score that everyday low price, eh?), but it's not hard to figure out what experience is more appealing...and worth supporting, as well, with your dollars and sense (pun intended: ba-boomp).

In our area, we're still amazed at hearing oldtimers' tales about the '50s and '60s...when our neighbor across the river could actually support four shoe stores in its long-faded downtown district! Surely, if we keep this habit up long enough, something's bound to get better, right? Whatever the Black Friday campaign accomplishes, "shop local" sounds a whole lot better than punching a plane ticket to Buenos Aires (too hot) or Beijing (too crowded, too frenzied, and too polluted).  --The Reckoner