Monthly Archives: October 2009

A Dad’s Letter to His Little Girl

dad and daughterTo my Daughter,

Yesterday, I held your tiny little body in my hands. So fragile and frail. I watched your eyes open for the very first time as you tried to focus on something familiar. I watched intently as you gazed upon a new and unfamiliar world. I choked back tears as my emotions overcame me as I admired how beautiful you were. I was so excited that I was going to be a new dad and you were going to be my first born daughter. My little girl.

When I think back over the last twenty three and a half years, I think how truly amazing it is what I recall. I can be accused of not remembering what I had for lunch, but memories of you, I will never forget. I remember bringing you home from the hospital for the very first time; painting Sesame Street characters on your bedroom wall and that wooden rocking chair where we first bonded.

I remember the special relationship you and our dog Camelot had. How inseparable the two of you were; funny Halloween costumes and family vacations to Disneyworld; daddy daughter dances. I remember sprees and carnivals and just being silly, for silly sake, yet how responsible you were when we bought your first car.

I remember the wonderful relationship you had with your grandfathers. They were both blessed to call you their very first as well. I will never forget how you could make them smile like nothing else in life. How you made them glow and how their eyes lit up with a twinkle whenever they spent quality time with you; how you showed them such a special kind of reciprocal love.

I remember your love of dance. I recall everything from practice and lessons to costumes and rhinestones; from falling asleep in the lobby waiting through late night classes and then driving home to traveling the globe for competitions; all of the competitions to our trip to Los Angeles. More than anything I recall all of the special conversations we had about life that we shared together during those times.

I remember how beautiful you looked and how incredibly proud I was of you on the monumental occasions that you have experienced so far in your young life. I recall how confident and self assured you were at your Bat Mitzvah, to what an elegant and classy young lady you were for each and every homecoming and prom.

I remember college days and all of our wonderful chats as you faced becoming an independent, grown-up young adult. I remember visiting you at college and picking up a rock from the parking lot and giving it to you as a special remembrance of our special time together. I’ll never forget the tears streaming down my cheeks as I watched you walk across the stage to receive your college diploma.

In case you ever wondered, my love for you was never just because it is a dad’s responsibility to do so, but more because of who you were becoming, who you are today, and what I know you are destined to be. While it would be easy for any dad to recite all the reasons he loves his daughter, I love you most for your sense of empathy.

I love how passionate and understanding you are, and how cognizant you are of others feelings. You are tolerant and patient and dedicated to what is true and right. Traits that are rare today yet will drive you to excel in whatever paths you choose to navigate.

I hope I have done a good job of raising you. I hope I was a great dad when you needed me to be one. I hope you understood when I scolded you, and I hope I made you smile enough to laugh at life. I hope I was a good friend when you needed me to be. I hope I listened when you needed an ear and I hope that I was a voice of reason when you needed a shoulder.

I hope more than anything, I taught you to dream. And when you dream, I hope that you always dream big. I hope that I taught you to always believe in yourself as much as I believe in you. Never ever forget that you can accomplish anything your heart desires. Always reach for the highest of stars and aspire to do or be the unimaginable.

This week I will watch as you drive away to begin the next chapter in your life in another state far from my protecting arms.

Oh, I really do understand. I really do. You have become a grown up woman, passionate and independent, and you need to go where you can build a future for yourself. I get it. Graduate school, a career, and a fiancée await you, and I couldn’t be prouder. Proud of what you have accomplished, and proud of what I know you will become. I know your impact on this world will be immeasurable.

The most difficult challenge for any dad is the thought that he has to be his daughter’s protector. He needs to shield her from any harm. He needs to make any pain go away and needs to look over her shoulder to make sure she always makes the correct decision.

You have made raising you my greatest joy. I am so thrilled to be your dad and know you have made an excellent choice in selecting the man that you have chosen to spend the rest of your life with.

Just remember not to forget me, as you will always be near and dear to my heart and never out of my thoughts. Just don’t fault me if those tears start streaming again as I watch my little girl drive off as a confident and mature woman.

Love,

Dad

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A Dog Walks Into a Bar and Orders a Drink…

LaughingA Rabbi, an Indian Chief and an Accountant all walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says “Okay, I give, what’s the punch line? Alright I give you I don’t have the worlds greatest sense of humor, however for me, it works. Ask my friends, some of my jokes are better than others. The truth is however if you keep feeding them great ones without a groaner in there once in a while, the crowd will never appreciate the really funny ones.

I love a good joke, as I am sure you do as well. It serves so many purposes. It is a great ice breaker in a difficult or uncomfortable situation. It humanizes you when you may seem robotic or unapproachable. Most importantly when you share a good joke it allows others the ability to take a moment and escape from their daily grind. A laugh, a chuckle, a silly smile or even a groan allows others to take their mind off of the challenges they may be facing at that moment, or in the best possible scenario, allows them to reset their priorities in a much better light.

I will tell you another thing of fact. Telling a great joke and the ability to laugh at one self is also a tremendous stress reliever. Yes, I put myself out there, right on the firing line. Sometimes I will have others laughing hysterically and other times just sitting there shaking their heads. But hey, that’s perfectly okay. They can laugh at my jokes, or me. I am okay with it either way.

Why do you think that some of Johnny Carson’s greatest monologues on the Tonight Show were the ones where he just wasn’t funny? We thought it was riotous just watching him squirm under the hot lights. He didn’t care that the jokes bombed, you laughed and that’s why you tuned in.

You see jokes are really a lighthearted look at life. They can be based on misconceptions or actual reality. They can be delivered as a witty slice of life or a dry take on human drama. In most cases, as they should always be delivered, they are not designed with any pre-conceived malice. Jokes create a harmonious environment. Yes, people will go to a sold out concert to watch a master of humor tell jokes for a couple of hours to be entertained, but on a much smaller scale look for the joke teller at your next social gathering and I bet you will find the crowd around him or her.

I can sit for hours trading jokes with old friends or by sharing a love of laughter with new ones. I love a great comedy show, concert or movie when it takes me away from my challenges. I love the Robin Williams quote “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world. You’re only given a spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

So I ask you, when was the last time you let your hair down? Not necessarily when was the last time you heard a really great joke that made you burst out laughing in public? No, I mean when was the last time you took it upon yourself to risk making a complete fool out of yourself retelling one of the funniest jokes or stories you ever heard to others?

I am not saying that every circumstance in life deserves a good joke to lighten the moment, but you might be surprised if you think back to certain moments in you own lives where someone told you a great joke and it immediately changed your outlook or perspective.

The world is filled with unique personalities, social classes, ethnicities, and levels of intelligence. A great joke, when not offensive crosses all barriers. Some of the funniest jokes are often delivered by someone when it is completely out of their character.

Albert Einstein, arguably one of the greatest scientists that the world has ever seen once was quoted at a national symposium as saying the following “When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, it seems like two minutes. When you sit on a hot stove for two minutes, it seems like two hours. Now that’s relativity.” Now that’s also funny.

Yes, each of us is born with just a little spark of madness. That cut loose, it’s okay to be stupid and make an idiot out of myself, what will people think of me in the morning madness. However, way too many of us suppress that madness as a distraction or wasted energy when in fact it just may be what the situation needed. Some will say “Life is tough and then you die” and to them I say life is a journey and it is what we make it. Live love and laugh. Better yet, lighten up. Find just a little spark of your madness and take the time to share it with others.

A rabbit walks into a bar in the old western days and proclaims “I‘m looking for the guy who shot my paw’…

My Mortgage Rate Went Up Because Grandpa Bought a New Car

house-dollarHaving worked in the mortgage industry for approximately 27 years now, I am often asked how mortgage rates are determined. I would love to tell you that I have all of the answers, however some days it is clear that I am still not as familiar with all of the nuances of changing mortgage interest rates as I often think I am.

The unpredictability of our economy coupled with the rise and fall of consumer confidence has left me, many times, bewildered. I still recall in my early years, how many times while getting ready to go to work in the morning, I would hear on the radio that the Federal government lowered rates but when I got to the office I was surprised to find out that many of my fellow loan officers were frantically trying to lock in their client’s interest rates.

Back then it didn’t make any sense to me or to many of my clients who were calling and asking to see if they could get a lower rate. We had to tell them that the rates had actually gone up. Many times I could hear in their voice a little twinge of disbelieve, but it was true!

When the Federal Reserve meets and decides to raise the rates it affects short-term interest rate maturities, the Fed funds rate, and the overnight lending rate which have a direct impact on the Prime rate. Anyone taking only these factors into consideration would mistakenly conclude that rate increases made by the Fed government will cause a similar movement in mortgage interest rates.

However, mortgage interest rates are dictated by the daily trading (purchase/sale) of mortgage-backed securities or mortgage bonds. That is why mortgage interest rates fluctuate every day. Factors that dictate interest rate movement include the trade of stocks and bonds.

Every single day of trading stocks and bonds includes competing for the same investment dollar and literally there is only so much of that capital to be invested. Daily released economic data is carefully watched by traders for signs of economic health. If there are signs of a slow-down in our economy, investors will tend to quickly liquidate their stock.

A good example of this would be if the unemployment report is up, we will typically have a rally of mortgage-backed securities and rates will go down. If unemployment is down and shows strength in the economy, mortgage-backed securities will tend to sell off causing mortgage rates to go up.

In even simpler terms, mortgage rates change primarily based on: 1) the perception of inflation, 2) times of uncertainty and 3) the movement of money in and out of the stock market–that’s it. When a piece of news shows weakness or uncertainty in the economy, that helps rates fall. The opposite is also true. A drop in the unemployment rate, a rise in durable goods orders, a rise in the consumer confidence index–rates go up. These influencing factors can present themselves all the time, many without warning, affecting mortgage rates instantly.

General rule: Good Economic News = High Interest Rates | Bad Economic News = Lower Interest Rates

Remember it is never about the best rate. It is about the best MATH, period. So why isn’t the lowest rate the best deal? Lower rates often come with more points and fees. That is not the real issue, however. There is a break even point to contend with when paying points and fees, as well as tax deductions to figure out.

In the case of a purchase loan, points are tax deductible in the year that you pay them as is the interest you are paying. With a refinance, points are usually only deductible over the full term of the loan. That could be 30 years, making the benefits and the break even point years down the road.

So why do lenders advertise really low rates with all of those points and fees? Because they know most consumers look at the rate, not the math. Unfortunately, that advertising strategy works really well. A good Loan Officer can analyze each rate and fee option to find out what the best math is for you. It only takes a few seconds for a professional to do it. As long as you qualify for various options, the final decision is yours.

Reading the paper for quotes doesn’t really work because the information is old by the time you read it. Radio, TV and billboards are not the answer because details are often missing. Their objective is to get you on the phone. Competitive and professional lenders can deliver nearly identical rates to each other. Most borrowers don’t ask the right questions and focus only on the interest rate.

The Bottom Line is that there is no one source that is the cheapest. If one lender always had the best combination of rate and fees, everyone would know about it eventually, right? The only other way most lenders can compete with one another is to somehow convince the public that they have some “secret way” of providing lower than market rates.

The market is the market and generally, you will pay for it one way or another. Only work with a professional mortgage company where the loan officers are skilled at the mathematics and can explain it in plain English. Feel free to ask for meaningful references such as CPA’s or Realtors, not just past customers. In times like these, don’t gamble with something as important as your mortgage.

What Time Is It When An Elephant Sits On Your Fence?

stress levelOkay, it’s an old joke that has been around for longer than both of us. If you are one of the few who have never heard it before, the answer is “Time to get a new fence”.

But, what does the joke have to do with this blog?

When I heard the joke for the thousandth time repeated by my nephew the other day, I got to thinking that it really was a great analogy for our lives today. I know you may be thinking that I have gone and lost my mind, however stick with me for a moment

Think of yourself as the fence. You stand rigid, the guardian of all things inside. You are the protector, the wage earner, the financial manager and the keeper of all things valuable. You decide what external influences you will allow inside.

You believe that you are a fence made of sturdy construction and able to weather any storm or turbulence, when along comes the elephant who decides that after an exhausting day, to take a short rest, right smack on the middle of your weakest point.

Alright, now let’s move past the picture in your head. Sorry about that. The elephant represents today’s external challenges. For simplicity, let’s just call him “Stress”. And yes, the pun is intended.

These are trying times indeed. As we slowly creep towards an economic recovery, I doubt anyone will come out unscathed. Some will be affected more than others. When tested, our emotions run on high, our decisions impulsive, and our patience very thin. The question is, are we effectively navigating and managing our challenges?

“Stress” carries a big load and his trunk is filled (yea, intended again) and he is marching right towards you.

Stress generally comes in two different forms. There is that which we can’t do anything about. Some say death and taxes. I’ll add the decisions made or not made by others. Unless you’re making their mouth move with your hand or you’re a marionette, you can’t control what others say and or do.

Equally, there is self imposed stress. That is the stress we put upon ourselves by the decisions that we make or don’t make each and everyday. And, if we weren’t stressed enough by those decisions, we like to compound it by continually second guessing it.

So, we have a choice. Better manage stress, or let it consume us.

Firstly and most importantly, put things in perspective. Try to understand what is really important, and what is not. Are you the one I saw yelling at the grocery store clerk because the item was mispriced, even after she apologized? Or was that you screaming at the fast food cashier because you specifically asked for no onions, and damn it if they didn’t put onions on it.

Would you be humiliated by your behavior if they played the store video tape back and you were able to watch yourself on TV? Of course you would.

Is there one specific, yet simple tactic to modify our behavior? I don’t think so but, personally, I like to apply the ten second rule. I try to give myself ten seconds before I act or react. Let me get this out of the way right now, I can’t always do it. It’s not easy.

Ask yourself:

• What are the consequences (good or bad) of my decision?
• Will my actions cause unnecessary emotional strife?
• How will the other party(s) perceive my decision?

And maybe most importantly,

• Will I end up regretting my actions?

No, you can’t change other people. You can’t tell them how to react or how to interpret you. What you can do however is to be cognizant of their feelings and act or react in a manner which is well thought out and respectful. After you have done that, move on.

I remember reading a book many years ago and my apologies to the author for forgetting his name or even the title, where he quoted a story about General Dwight David Eisenhower. It seems that Eisenhower was asked how he was emotionally able to send thousands and thousands of troops off into battle clearly knowing that many of them would not return. Surely each of them had parents, many with siblings and children and that burden had to unbearable for him.

Eisenhower responded simply by saying “I sit down and analyze all the facts available to me at the time, make my decision, and most importantly I never look back”.

Don’t stress yourself out by over thinking and over analyzing situations. Make your decisions based on facts rather than emotion. Remember; don’t waste precious time and energy revisiting your decision.

Many stressful circumstances are indeed just that, because we have turned them into stressful circumstances. Learn to digest, analyze, and then react, rather than the other way around.

Just tighten a few of those loose screws (yea, did it again) and know that with just a little adjustment you can effectively manage any situation.

Championing Economic Change…Taking the lead

finger pointing editRecently a national business syndication which publishes numerous individual state versions of its newsletter sent me an e-mail. They asked me to provide them with as many stories I had about current homeowners and how their mortgages caused them undue hardship leading to a forced short sale or pending foreclosure. As you might imagine, I sent them back an e-mail stipulating that I would do no such thing. While I had and continue to have concerns about my industry and its perception, I would be no source for media propaganda taking shots at our industry as a whole. I would not allow them to lump all of my peers into money grubbing thieves tearing at the flesh of ignorant consumers.

Of course we have and continue to have issues, some of which we are indeed personally responsible for. Yes, for that, we must accept culpability. The good news is that we have corrected many and must continue to work hard to correct those that remain.

I have been disappointed for a while now that many continue to blame our industry specifically, as the cause of our country’s economic hardship. I understand the rational, and clearly numbers and statistics don’t lie. I just fail to comprehend why many in the media still can’t move forward and begin to demonstrate the same passion about what we are doing to address these issues and the pro-active positions brokers, lenders and secondary giants like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are doing to aid in our country’s recovery.

No offense intended, but consumers believe what they hear on the radio, watch on television, or read in the newspaper. Generally most of you don’t read national statistical publication and interpret facts. That is what you tend to rely on the media for. It means that if we are in deed on the road to recovery, the media must help to champion the cause. It is time to forget the old misconceptions that “bad news sells”, or that the “media is just a reporting service and not itself a newsmaker” and become a positive beacon to the general public.

So therefore, I call on each of you. I call on my peers and you the American consumer to take a giant step forward and speak up for a positive direction and a positive outcome. If we don’t become uniform in our actions, new purchasers will continue to hold off making decisions on housing. There will be no move up transactions, losses will continue and values will continue to decline and people will continue to blame the mortgage industry thus continuing our downward spiral. It’s just that simple.

My head is not in the sand. Yes, I understand that thousands of jobs have been lost over the past two years. I do know that foreclosure losses at an all time high. And yes, tighter regulations on lending remain. However, is it the entire nightmare that it appears to be?

Or maybe, just maybe is it the cleansing the industry needed? We have added licensing, new regulations and better disclosures that have been sorely lacking in our industry for far too long. We in the industry are finally establishing some accountability and culpability that will better inform and protect consumers.

People ask me daily “are things really that bad?” and I tell them yes and no. Statistics don’t lie. Job losses and foreclosures published are real. The state of the economy in most states is not good and a quick turn-a-round does not appear on the immediate horizon. With many state’s heavy reliance on the automotive industry and its suppliers, the market will continue to struggle along. Consolidation and concessions will need to continue until the economy of scale, when it relates to compensation, becomes more realistic. The value in education and encouraging our kids to secure college degrees must once again be rewarded in how they are compensated.

The good news, I believe, is that good things are starting to happen. I think economic recovery is just around the corner. As we continue down this road, wages will, as a necessary evil, begin to better reflect job status. I pass no individual judgment on the salaries we pay our workers, however once this happens, the mass exodus of our young college educated students entering the work force will begin to reconsider staying home in light of better compensation elsewhere. Our costs of living will also better reflect individual state’s economic situations and their population will be able to continue to maintain their current lifestyle despite modification to their wages.

Many states current economies and the current exodus from those states have obviously created an influx of available properties. This in turn has caused a stagnation of market values in most communities and caused an actual depreciation of value in others. While this for many is a challenge, values across the country today remain higher than property values of five to seven years ago when they purchased the property.

While most read of the horror of the current market, practical thinking and realistic expectation dictates that there is still profit taking available and many great bargains for new homes.

As I stated earlier, it is very easy to place blame. It is also very easy to blame the loss of jobs and careless consumer spending as the reason for so many homes lost however there are many components that need to be analyzed.

We can talk about our industry short comings, we can discuss the media’s choice of reporting, and we can challenge the government’s tactics in aiding this recovery. However, we must also remember that ignorance on behalf of the consumer is not bliss. Many consumers made poor uniformed decisions. Just because a lender can do something for them, doesn’t mean that it is the best and wisest decision. I know it is an overused cliché however I recall something about “just because someone jumped off a bridge”. Honestly, given the common sense we are supposed to posses, since when did taking out a second mortgage to 100% or 125% of the value of a home becomes a good idea?

In my home state of Michigan, only about 10% of our loan officers remain gainfully employed that were writing loans in 2007. It is time to find a trusted mortgage professional.

To my peers, we must assume more responsibility in working with our clients. We need to educate them that establishing an important business relationship is tantamount to any successful endeavor. Consumers need to understand that without knowing the background of a particular lender, making a choice by asking “what are your rates and costs?” is often a recipe for disaster.

Despite all the doom and gloom, I don’t believe that things are all that bad. I am a glass half full kind of guy. I feel deeply for those who have had unmentionable misfortune; however they will recover as will our industry and our economy. We can continue to wallow in our misery, if we choose to, or we can help to champion a recovery.

I hope my media friends as well jump on the proverbial “band-wagon” and also find the wherewithal to champion our cause.

And to you my friends, the message is “remain consistent yet prudent and realistic in your financial decisions. Understand your goals and objectives. Take the time to build a relationship with a lender who demonstrates a commitment to your short and long term goals and the experience to back it up”. That very posture, in addition to this industry cleansing, will help to alleviate many of the ‘bad actors” that have contributed to this mess.

Come jump aboard, this train is leaving the station.