Sunday, December 21, 2008

To Test or Not to Test, That is the Question

I must start with two disclaimers.

1. I do not like unions. Unions are a huge drag on the economy. My first experience with unions was as an 18 year old in my first real job with a textile company in Birmingham Alabama in 1969. A small group, 20-30 percent of the employees, went on strike. They used to stand outside of the outlet store where I was the sole employee.

They cursed me and verbally abused me in many ways. The cars of those who disagreed with them were routinely vandalized. In the 40years since, I have not seen much to disabuse me of my initial feelings.

The current congressional goal to get rid of the secret ballot in union organizing is a continuation of this attitude. (I call it the "Union Right to Harrass bill") Of all the unions, I think the teachers' union probably does the most damage because they are a huge weight against making our schools competitive.

2. I support the legalization of Marijuanna. Not because I think it is good. Not because I want to use it--I do not even drink alchol except with very rare exceptions and I do not recall the last exception. But, because it is only marginally harmful and we do far more damage trying to stomp it out. This is a war we HAVE lost.

So, I make this disclosure because Unions are NOT the reason I am upset with the Hawaii Teachers Union. They made an agreement to be subject to random drug testing in return for an 11 percent pay raise. Well, in two years of getting the raise, no one has been tested. Further, the testing is being fought and argued against, even though the rank and file accepted it.

I think random drug testing is a great idea! Of course, I spent 26 years working for Uncle Sam and was constantly subjected to this same random drug testing program. I have been called at 2 AM along with an entire corps. Two thousand people or so standing in line to take the golden flow exam.

My last military posting was, oddly enough, Hawaii. Here, each month the military spun the magic dial and picked a number from 0 to 9. Everyone whose SSN ended in that didget lined up to fill the good old bottle.

So, let's go back into history. Leading up to and at the end of the Vietnam War, April 30, 1975 officially. The military was in a very low funk. Morale was not good. As a matter of fact I can recall my time in a military school in 1971 and 1972 where any walk down a barracks hall would likely have caused a positive reading for cannibas.

In Germany, in the late 70's, the military drug empidemic was very tough. I recall the story of an officer who walked into a second floor dorm and caught some dopers. They put him in a locker and threw the locker out the window. I believe he died. It was not a pretty picture.

So, in the late 70's the military finally got some backbone. They instituted the on call Golden Flow test system coupled with a very hard "Be positive (w/o a perscription) and you are history" policy. In a relatively short time, couple of years, the military had very little problem with drugs. Not to say we stopped the problem because we did loose people after that. Unfortunately, we lost some good troops due to the policy. But, we cleaned up the system.

One of the arguments the DOE in Hawaii has used is the cost, $35 per person. Of course, you do not test everyone and after a few are fired, the random nature of the testing keeps folks in line.

So, you Hawaii teachers, suck it up. Step out smartly. Fill the old bottle and get to work. You are, after-all, the primary adult model our kids see. You agreeded to the program. If you do drugs, you do not belong at the podium.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sub-Irrigation. What is it?

I recall a few years ago an appraiser making fun of my listing. He thought it was absurd a farmer would install sprinklers that spouted underground or some such way. He was pretty derogatory about this description.

He did not understand what the word meant, and I imagine many city people moving to the country to enjoy the rural lifestyle also do not understand that term. It is both cause for rejoicing and cause for concern.

What causes sub-irrigation? Typically, this results from an impervious layer of rock or clay fairly close to the surface. Ground water flows to the bottom of the ground then hits this layer and can go no further, or seeps downward very slowly. This results in the ground being “irrigated” from this collected water when normally, it would have dried out. In much of Williams Valley which is just west of Deer Park in Eastern Washington, you can dig a hole in the ground in late August and within ten feet hit water.

So, what is good about this? Obviously, you can really grow a lot of grass and other agricultural crops. Again, check to be sure what you grow is compatible with the water level in the ground. That is a good subject for another discussion and I am not going to go there now. But, if you are driving around a rural area in the late summer and there has been no rain for a month or two, look for nice, lush green growth. You have probably located a sub-irrigated field.

So, What is bad about this? Two things come to mind.

Basements. You may want to think twice about putting a basement in your home or be very careful if buying an existing home with a basement. If the home does not have a sump pump, you may need to install one later. Expect drainage issues. A killer? No, just be aware and learn how to work with it. Especially if you are building. Make sure to factor this issue into the construction equation.

Septics. Septic systems work on two equations, drainaige and evaporation. In our area, we need about six feet of drainable land before hitting an impervious layer. When your six foot deep perk holes rapidly fill with water, you have a problem. Again, not a killer, just plan to spend extra money on your septic system. If you are buying raw land and it is very green in the very late summer, you better include a perk test as part of the contingency. Know what you are dealing with. That is the key to success.

Sub-irrigation is a real state and like most things in life, it has both good and bad wrapped up in the equation. Also, like most things in life, do your research before you buy, not afterward.
Call Dave Atherton to Buy or Sell or talk real estate. (509) 216-4985.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Big City Realtor or Active Small Town Realtor. What is your best move?

There is always a struggle between smaller companies located in the satellite towns located around the bigger cities and the larger companies located in the cities as to who can best service the real estate needs of people who want to buy or sell in the rural towns and areas outside of the metropolitan centers. Of course, in large part, that depends on the aggressiveness and nature of the smaller companies.

So, let's talk about Real Estate Marketplace whose 20 or so agents are experts in the northern Spokane and Southern Stevens and Pend Oreille (Pronounced "Ponderay")Counties. Deer Park, Elk, Clayton, Loon Lake, Springdale, Chewelah, Addy, are some of the towns located in this general area. Additionally, it includes Deer Lake, Eloika Lake, Loon Lake, Davis Lake, Sascheen Lake, Long Lake and Diamond lake.

Besides Real Estate Marketplace, in this area and in Spokane, there are a number of smaller agencies who each serve their own circles of influence. In Spokane, two companies dominate the market, Tomlinson (Black) and Windermere. These two companies have, I believe, in excess of 300 agents who serve their clientele well.

(Disclaimer, I spent 7 years working with Tomlinson Black North and have nothing but good feelings for that company in general, the North office in particular and the many friends I have there. Leaving four years ago was a very difficult decision for me. I look forward to working with them every time I sell one of their listings.)

A quick review of all current active listings and all sales of properties in our general area of operations listed on or after 01/01/08 show generally the same ratios.

RE Marketplace Tomlinson Windermere
40 62 60 Active listings
11 17 16 Sold listings

When you consider Real Estate Marketplace's 20 agents are competing with the 300+ agents in these two companies, it is obvious how much more efficiently the 20 agents in Real Estate Marketplace are working our area of influence. Listings at roughly 66 percent against each of the large companies. Sales at roughly 60 percent against each of the other offices.

The rest of the companies both in and out of Spokane trail well below Real Estate Marketplace.

Now, we come to the question, "I want to list my north Spokane, Southern Stevens or Pend Oreille County home. I see looking at your numbers Mr. Atherton, Tomlinson has sold more than you guys have and has listed more than you guys have. Why shouldn't I list with them and get ALL the advantages of the Big City Realtors over you little town Realtors."

Well, because the law of averages says 300+ agents are more likely to sell more real estate than 20 agents. In Fact,they should sell fifteen times more. Yet, they do not. What this says is the Real Estate Market agents are out there working this area very hard. Our smaller numbers are bringing more energy per capita to each listing or sale in this area.

Why do we sell and list so much of the real estate in this area? We live here. We know the history of many of the properties in this area, we intuitively know what is going on in the area. We actively work the area. We know people who want to buy and sell but who may not be quite on the market yet.

Our agents are sprinkled throughout this roughly 2000 sq mile area (50 miles NS and about 40 miles EW). So, each of us bring a subset of knowledge to the office then by actively cooperating with each other weave a thick mat of expertise and knowledge which blankets the area from which you the buyer or seller can benefit.

Another factor is the servicing level. Spokane is 15 miles south of Deer Park. Chewelah is yet another 30 miles up the road. Diamond lake is 25 miles or so north. We live here, we do not have to drive here to show a home. It is far more convenient for our agents to service the listings in this area. Time is money and gas can get pretty expensive.

Finally, we need to look at the technology driving today's market. Eighty-five percent of the searchers start on line! We are all on line. You are reading this because you are on line. The MLS is on line. Everything to do with real estate is on line. The Internet has been the great influence leveler. The larger companies do not bring more to the table than do the smaller companies. In fact, it comes down to each individual agent. How hard do you work and where do you work.

We work very hard and we work in your back yard. We are the one who can help you best! Dave Atherton (509) 216-8589,