Thursday, October 16, 2008

Maggie Mileski, Teacher and Mentor

Maggie Mileski, 1972Having been on the internet now for over eight fourteen years, you would think that I would stop being surprised at the unusual people I meet, the friendships I find, and how much I still learn. I am very lucky to have a career that allows me to spend so much time on the computer, and I'm doubly blessed to be able to write well enough to convey my thoughts and feelings at the same time I'm doing my job. In fact, the skills I learned in high school in spelling, grammar, and communication are what enabled me to work at something I enjoy so much and find so rewarding every day.

In 1972, the innocent part of the Age of Aquarius was fading. The sweet bubblegum music of the early Beatles and the Monkees had changed into hard, drug-promoting, disillusioned songs like "Taxi" and "A Horse With No Name". The Beatles had broken up, Nixon was elected as President, the war in Vietnam was still raging, and it seemed like half the young people were either dead, bombed out their minds, or disgusted with everything society had to offer.

I was only 16 years old, but I considered myself an adult and a "hippie". I reveled in the same anger that the older kids who had been so affected by the war were feeling. I never fit in with the popular group - the cheerleaders, athletes and rich kids that seemed to be immune to the world outside of Ragsdale High School and the society that we hippies loved to hate.


Pat McCrory, Charlotte NC MayorThe "Socs" actually produced, at least, one prodigy - Pat McCrory. Anyone remember the movie called The Outsiders? Even in the south, much of that movie was truly the way it was in those days! Anyway, he's been the Mayor of Charlotte, and is now governor. I think the southern Republicans are priming him for a Presidential run...wouldn't surprise me. Pat and a few of his friends were squeaky clean, unfailingly sweet and optimistic, and went through their high school years seemingly oblivious to the drugs, protest marching, and anarchy that the Woodstock generation was going through. He and his brother Phil were class presidents about the entire time we were in school, I think. So he may be destined. No offense, but I hope not. His popularity is not what it was when he was a kid.

Anyway, a huge influence in my life entered the scene that year. Mrs. Maggie Mileski, teacher of English, Grammar, and Literature. She was about 5 ft tall, had a bit of an accent, brooked no nonsense, had a sparkle in her eyes and loved her chosen profession. She may have even loved those rebellious teenagers that sulked into her class with huge bell bottoms, fringed vests, bells tinkling, and often glazed-over eyes. She didn't seem to distinguish between the rich ones with the Izod labels and the misfits, either. She was determined we were going to learn how to spell and write, and she was going to teach us.

And I think I can honestly say that even the worst kids that came through her class did learn. I would bet that any kid who spent a year or so with Mrs. Mileski has better English skills to this day than half the population.

I was good at all things language anyway. My mother did huge crossword puzzles every day for fun, and my father was a math whiz. Unfortunately, I inherited none of his skills, but I did get hers. So having the best English teacher in the U.S. was exciting and inspiring for me. She was as tough as nails and even the meanest overgrown young hulks came to respect her very quickly. She was also extremely smart, and you knew it and felt it. And her non-discriminating interest in her students presented us with an adult authority figure that we couldn't complain about or dislike!

An entire generation of kids that attended Ragsdale High School in Jamestown, North Carolina learned how to spell, how to speak less like a typical southerner, how to diagram sentences, and how to write better during the years that this tiny little ball of fire taught English in high school. I give her credit for most of the skills that gave me a better life, and calmed my rebellious spirit with self-respect and a sense of accomplishment.

I once had an email correspondence with a rather famous lady.

Jane Straus was the "Miss Manners" of grammar and punctuation in America. A life coach as well as an English teacher, Jane wrote the "Blue Book of Grammar", one of the best reference books a writer can have. She's been interviewed on many television shows and used to put out a great free newsletter with tips and rules about punctuation, word usage, and common spelling errors. After her death, the family continued her legacy. I would recommend anyone who blogs or works with a professional website to sign up for that newsletter. In several back-and-forth emails with Jane, I mentioned Mrs. Mileski. This prompted me to Google her and perhaps find a way to show her this article I am now writing.

Much to my sorrow and disappointment, the first thing I found was her eulogy, written by a Catholic Priest that was also one of her students in the 80's, and came to love her as I did. His tribute to Maggie Mileski made me cry, but also made me see how truly fortunate I was to have been one of the privileged ones who knew this amazing lady. There's no telling how many lives she touched, and she may well have been part of the reason that Pat McCrory found his success in politics. When he's running for President one day, Mrs. Mileski's sparkling brown eyes may look down on him with pride for having done her job well and making a difference in so many lives. I hope her influence will guide him more than his chosen political party.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Investing in Foreclosures

By Michael Perl, from the Bottom Line Newsletter

Rising interest rates and the proliferation of high-risk variable-rate mortgages have pushed foreclosures to record levels.

Opportunity: Agile investors can buy foreclosed homes for as little as 80% or even 70% of fair market value (the price the home might normally sell for) from home owners seeking to avoid a public auction... from lenders wanting to get foreclosed properties off their books fast... or at a public auction.
A careful study of the foreclosure process can lead to great bargains, whether you are seeking a home to live in... to rent out... or to sell quickly for a profit.
Danger: Foreclosed homes are not always a good deal. A buyer who moves too fast can end up with a money pit.
Among the questions to consider...
*How much will it cost to fix up and maintain the home, including insurance and taxes?
*How long will it take to find a new buyer if you view the home as a short-term investment?
If you still want to buy a foreclosure property once you have considered the challenges, here's how to get the best deal...

UNDERSTAND THE FORECLOSURE PROCESS
It is important to know the steps leading to foreclosure...
The home owner “defaults” on mortgage payments, typically after falling 90 days behind.
The lender serves the home owner with a summons, and the property enters “pre-foreclosure.” Attorneys for the lender detail the debt owed in court.
A “final judgment” hearing is held, and an auction date is set.
The owner can sell the property at any point before it is sold at auction. Or the lender could take ownership, either through an agreement with the owner during pre-foreclosure or by winning the auction. The property is then known as an REO property (real estate owned by the lender).

GETTING STARTED
Consult with your bank or a mortgage broker to determine how much of a loan you could comfortably handle, and look for properties in that price range. If the home is an investment that you intend to sell, the most profitable neighborhoods often are up-and-coming areas, where about 80% of residents are renters.

Check foreclosure filings. Ask for the most recent foreclosure filings at the county courthouse. In many counties, there will be dozens or even hundreds of listings every week or two. You also could use a foreclosure tracking service, such as First American CoreLogic (800-345-7334. Typical cost: $100 to $150 per month per county.
After spotting a potential bargain, check recent sale prices of homes in the same neighborhood, making sure that the houses are comparable based on such factors as size and condition. The free Website is a useful resource.

BEST TIME IS BEFORE AUCTION
Some of the best foreclosure bargains are found before the auction removes the sales decision from the home owner. Contact home owners of prospective properties as soon as a notice of foreclosure appears. You might send a letter to introduce yourself and express interest, but don't expect the average home owner in foreclosure to respond to your letter until about a month before a public auction would take place. By then, the owner may welcome an offer to buy the property quickly for a price that allows him/her to pay off the mortgage and perhaps end up with a little extra cash. That might mean 75% of the property’s fair market value.

If the home owner doesn't agree to sell until less than a month remains before the auction, you might not have time to arrange a mortgage. In that case, both you and the home owner should file a motion with the court for an emergency hearing (possible court fee: about $50) and a delay of the auction so you can secure financing.
Even if you can't work out a deal with the home owner, approaching him prior to the auction might give you an opportunity to inspect the house -- which may no longer be possible once a lender takes possession.

If you decide to take this route...Be ultrasensitive to the home owner's situation. Don’t use the word “foreclosure.” Say you're interested in buying if the owner “decides” to sell.

Ask if the owner has looked into “forbearance” from the mortgage lender. Home owners sometimes can bring their loans up-to-date by making a relatively small forbearance payment to the lender. You will lose out on the house if the home owner does get forbearance, but your helpful suggestion should build some goodwill and raise your chances of a purchase if forbearance is not granted, as is usually the case.

Many home owners in foreclosure these days owe lenders more money on properties than the properties would be worth if sold. To get a great deal, you could arrange something called a “short sale” -- the bank agrees to take less for the property than is owed. In the current real estate market, banks often are willing to accept as little as 60% to 75% of the amount owed, particularly in states such as Florida, where home values have fallen substantially.

AUCTIONS ARE TRICKY
It is not easy for a buyer to get a great deal at a foreclosure auction. There are experienced real estate investors at most auctions, ready to snap up any bargains. At most auctions, the lender will bid the amount owed on the property to keep the sale price from going too low. If no one bids more, the lender -- which does not yet own the property -- will end up buying it at auction.
Auction winners generally must pay with cash or by certified check before the close of the business day -- leaving no time to arrange financing. There may not be much time before an auction to research the title and arrange a professional inspection, and auctioned homes are sold “as is,” so once you buy the property, you get it in whatever condition it is in. It's a good idea to attend a few auctions, just as an observer. I would not recommend auction bidding for the novice foreclosure buyer.

BUYING FROM THE BANK
If the bank ends up owning the home, it will try to sell it as quickly as possible, especially in today's depressed real estate market. A bank won’t give you a great deal, but it might give you a very good deal, perhaps as little as 80% to 85% of fair market value. The bank typically will make sure the title is clear of liens (which use the property as collateral) and other barriers to transfer and do some basic repairs to make the property more appealing to prospective buyers.
To find REO properties in your area, call real estate agencies and ask if any of their agents specialize in REO homes. The bank will pay the agent's commission if you eventually buy a property through him. Or call area banks and say you're interested in seeing their lists of foreclosed properties.

GREATEST DANGERS
Liens. The buyer of a foreclosed home may not know that it carries one or more liens. Some liens, such as those filed by tradespeople, are wiped away by the foreclosure process, but when it's a government agency, such as the IRS, or a home owner’s association that is owed money, the debt typically passes to the new owner. A title search performed after the foreclosure or an attorney with experience in this field can tell you what liens remain.
Cost: A title company might charge $100 to $150 to search a title for liens... a real estate attorney costs a bit more.
Condition. The property you buy might be in worse shape than you realized. Example: The previous occupants trashed the inside of the home to get back at the bank for the eviction. Try to inspect before you buy.
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Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Michael Perl, owner of Equity Res-Q, West Palm Beach, Florida. The company has bought and sold more than 400 foreclosures and pre-foreclosures over a six-year period.