Archive for December, 2008

Localities race to get ready to build stuff

I really like the whole "unintended consequences" thing — you know, improve car security and you end up with the then-new crime of carjacking. The latest, from

The nation’s cities and counties are asking Obama transition officials to give them most of the infrastructure money from the multibillion-dollar economic stimulus package, setting off a dispute with the states over who can launch transportation projects the fastest.

So you’ve got state governments each trying to convince President* Obama that their earthmovers are warmed up and ready to build stuff faster than the next state. Then you’ve got cities and counties, which have had their budgets cut by their states, saying they should get the money to build rather than the states.

(Next, I assume, Smith County Roadbuilder Crew 12 will say it should get the money directly, rather than having it go through the county government.)

If it looks like a feeding frenzy, smells like a feeding frenzy, and tastes like a feeding frenzy…

On top of all this, of course, you have taxpayers who want new roads, safer bridges, and water mains that don’t burst — but don’t want their taxes raised to pay for these things. While where I live in Henrico County, I watched them water the medians of the roads the day after a rainstorm, only to go home to find a plea from the local volunteer rescue squad for donations.



* Let’s be real here: If you watch the news, it’s getting clear that the inauguration is almost an afterthought.

Minor changes

LitterCleaning I’m making a few minor changes to the blog — hopefully nothing you’ll even notice if you’re not looking for it. I’ve condensed the (long) category list into something more reasonable. For example, “Housing Economy” now includes mortgage lending-related posts, and all the separate VAR categories (with a total of, like, 10 posts) are now a single “VAR Stuff” category.

And I added a “Going Green” slug too, because that’s going to be a hot topic, as well as one called “Business of Realty” that I think needs to be there. Maybe it will spark some posts, too.

And before we do a complete redesign there will be some cosmetic tweaks here and there as well. So if something doesn’t look right, or you think something could look better (e.g., “Can you make such-and-such a font larger”), lemme know.

Meantime: Happy, Merry, etc.

What was hot in Commonwealth Online?

I know, I know — you’ve all been waiting to hear. Did everyone click on the same things you did? Let’s find out.

For good or bad, the hottest link in our December issue was NAR’s Code of Ethics course info. (I guess all our pleas to complete the requirements finally sunk in — or else these are the same folks who are rushing out to Target on December 24.)

The other hot links?

So if you missed them in your copy of CO, here’s your chance to catch up with your friends and neighbors.

Harney: Fannie-backed loans to be eligible for modification earlier

According to Ken Harney’s column in this past Saturday’s Washington Post, Fannie Mae will now “allow borrowers who face imminent difficulties to request “early workout” loan alterations, even if they have never been late” on payments.  Here’s the gist of it:

Fannie’s policy change has the potential to help thousands of people who are losing jobs or facing layoffs as the recession crunches onward. Most lenders and loan servicers have declined to intervene in mortgage problems until borrowers are 60 to 90 days late. At that point, the lenders may try to work out solutions if possible — through rescheduling of back payments or extending the loan term, among other techniques.

Under Fannie Mae’s revised approach, servicers of the company’s loans nationwide will be required to inform borrowers that if they are “reasonably” certain that changes in their income will cause them to miss mortgage payments, they might qualify for an advance loan modification — before they fall behind.

Borrowers who qualify will enter into a trial period of reduced payments, usually for four months. If they make payments on time during the trial, the modified mortgage terms could then be made permanent.

All the seasonal hall decking and chestnut roasting that the Christmas season ushered in has fanned an ongoing debate at my house. At the very time of year when visions of sugar plums should be dancing in our heads, my wife and I, good southerners that we are, find ourselves disagreeing (again) about food — specifically,  that holiday delicacy of delicacies, sweet potato pie.

This is more than just an academic debate, because for good Southerners, food is serious business. I mean, you just don’t go runnin’ down somebody’s sweet potato pie or banana puddin’ or squash casserole if you’re not prepared to justify your argument.

It’s a Southern thing — talking about food, arguing about whether one variety is superior to another, whether the collard greens at this cafe’ are tastier than those at that other one. We debate barbecue, whether Texas- or Carolina-style is better; we fuss over the right amount of sugar to put in a gallon of iced tea (at our house, it’s a cup and two-thirds); and we even give prizes for the best sweet pickles and scoppernong jelly at the State Fair every fall.

In the South, food is one of the few remaining polite topics for conversation. We’ve seen far too many fights break out when the discussion turns to politics or religion or football. But you criticize the preacher’s wife’s red velvet cake, and you’ll start an intellectual discussion that could go on for hours. Folks down here can spend entire evenings recounting mouth-watering details of long-ago meals at Grandmama’s, remembered with the same wistfulness and emotion that other folks reserve for more intimate matters. Who else but a good southerner could find a plate of fried chicken and mashed potatoes sensual?

It’s that genetic predisposition toward food talk from whence our Great Sweet Potato Pie Debate sprang.

My wife and I both like sweet potato pie. In fact, we LOVE sweet potato pie, so it’s not a matter of pro-pie versus anti-pie. What we disagree on is the style of the pie, the substance of it, the taste. Although we grew up a mere 90 miles apart, both in the heart of the deep South, our families’ philosophies of sweet potato pie were quite different. She likes it plain; I like it fancy.

In Karen’s family, sweet potato pie is an institution, a fixture at any family gathering, usually made by her Maw-Maw, and perfect for topping off a Sunday lunch of chicken pie, stewed okra & tomatoes and butter peas. As best I can tell, the recipe is simple: sweet potatoes, eggs, evaporated milk, and just a scosh of vanilla.  Bright orange in color, it’s thoroughbred in every way.

And while it doesn’t hold a candle to Maw-Maw’s carrot cake, it’s good enough — sorta like the way eating at the Cracker Barrel is good enough when you’ve gone a week without home cooking and your Momma’s not there to cook for you. But it’s not what I grew up on.

In my family, mother’s sweet potato pie is more like…well, an extravaganza, full of variety and texture and best served after dinner on a pretty plate with a steaming cup of coffee. The recipe changes from pie to pie, and on any given occasion may include eggs, evaporated milk, vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar, nutmeg, cloves, pecans, coconut, orange rind, and of course, sweet potatoes (for taste). Its color is a wizened, noble bronze; it’s a concerto of mouth-watering tastes, the Alpha & Omega of holiday desserts.  But that’s just my opinion.

My wife thinks my version is too much. “That’s not a pie,” she says. “It’s a casserole.”

“Call it what you will,” I say. “I thought you liked sweet potato casserole.”

“I do,” she continues:  “But what’s the point of having casserole and pie that taste just alike?”

She’s got me there, so I decide to wow her with some philosophical gobbledygook: “Don’t you think our taste in sweet potato pie might be allegorical, an indicator of who we are?” I say. “Could it be that sweet potato says something about our personalities?”

She doesn’t fall for it. “You’ve been in too many psychology classes. Don’t change the subject,” she says.

The truth is, I like to think that my affinity for all that that cinnamon and nutmeg and crumbly, butter-soaked brown sugar in my sweet ‘taters mirrors my psyche, revealing a complicated, creative individual of eclectic interests; a guy who’d rather drown clinging to an interesting theory than float along on the security of a cold fact; a guy who wears bowties and likes living on the edge on occasion.”

She smirks. “Or maybe it just means you’re a sucker for cinnamon.”

“Well,” I say, “Perhaps your affection for Plain Jane pie may reflect your judicious, common sense, straight-shooting manner.” I’m patronizing here, and she knows it.

“Or maybe I just like my style of pie best of all,” she says.

She’s right, of course. As these food arguments go, it’s all a matter of personal taste. Because home cooking doesn’t inpinge on any deeply held moral or political conviction, it’s one issue in the South on which we can discuss ad nauseum, then agree to disagree without rancor.

And the fact is, when it comes to sweet potato pie, you won’t find me turning down either variety.

This holiday season, may all your desserts be worth arguing over.

VARbuzz tweaks and a new blogmaster

Just a few changes here at VARbuzz we want make you aware of:

  • For those of you who subscribe by e-mail, you may have noticed that the daily e-mail digest now contains the post author’s name. This took a little bit of blog magic on the part of VAR’s Editor & Information Manager, Andrew Kantor.
  • andrew-kantor-mug-shotIn recognition of Andrew’s many contributions to VARbuzz over these past few months, he is taking over the reins as the VARbuzz Blogmaster. I’ll continue contributing to VARbuzz of course, but Andrew will now be the point man on the blog, including comment moderation (so let’s give him a nice welcome: everyone comment on this post two or seven times!). Unwilling to simply ride into the sunset, I’m taking the oh-so-venerable title of Blogmaster Emeritus.
  • Under Andrew’s reign, 2009 will bring some exciting changes to VARbuzz.  For one thing, we’re going to redesign the site and add some new features. For another thing, we’ll host a nation-wide Blog Brawl in March with fabulous prizes. Still another thing, we’ll be doing more contests like the Blog Brawl, but less — shall we say — intense for the participants.

Okay, now show Andrew how much you love him. Start leaving those multiple comments.

Virginians react to Governor Kaine’s proposed budget cuts

From Abingdon to Arlington, the Commonwealth’s news outlets are reporting the potential effects of Governor Kaine’s proposed 2009-2010 budget cuts, which were announced yesterday.

Of particular interest to real estate professionals, Kaine is recommending that the Department of Housing and Community Development’s budget be cut from $44.5 million to $40.7 million, and that the Department of Transportation’s budget be cut from $4 billion to $3.7 billion.

Review the Governor’s full proposal.

Did you know…

  • that 10 percent of Virginia’s population is foriegn-born?
  • that immigrants who have been in the United States longer than 30 years have a homeownership rate that surpasses the national homeownership rate?
  • that only 31% of all immigrants who came to Virginia in 2007 came from North or South America?
  • that India led all nations in immigration to Virginia in 2007?

These and other revealing facts in NAR’s new report, Business Data for Engaging in International Real Estate Transactions in Virginia.

Reports for other states here.

The case of the missing scam alert. Solved!

This story may have been dropped from your copy of December’s Commonwealth Online e-newsletter, which was sent out today. Ergo, we post it here for your reading pleasure:

The U.S. Treasury Department has put out a notice for brokers and REALTORS®: Watch out for scam buyers using fake government bonds to buy homes.

If a buyer tries to use a ‘personal promissory note’ or ‘private offset bond’ to buy a home,” writes the Treasury’s Office of Inspector General, “the matter might be an attempt at fraud.”

The basis of those bonds actually has some amusement value. According to the scammers, in 1933, the federal government somehow went bankrupt and converted the bodies of its citizens into capital value by trading the birth certificates of U.S. citizens on the open market. Hence, “personal promissory note.”

We expect our members to know a fishy situation when they see it, but this one’s so far out in left field we thought you ought to know about it.

REBarCamp Virginia: March 3, 2009 at FAAR

UPDATED: Please visit to RSVP

Well, that post subject pretty much says it all.

VAR is stretching the longest-running series of peer-to-peer learning experiences specifically for real estate bloggers, but instead of holding Virginia Real Estate BloggerCon 4.0, we’re getting on board with the national REBarCamp movement. So mark your calendars for March 3, 2009 for a full day of bloggers teaching bloggers at the Fredericksburg Area Association of REALTORS®.

FAAR is offering up their state of the art classroom for our use, including (of course) free wifi. Several hotels with reasonable rates are available just a few blocks away from FAAR’s offices for those who may be traveling in from a distance. Exact details are still being ironed out, but here’s what we’ve got so far:

  • Date: March 3, 200
  • Time: 10 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. (tentative)
  • Location: FAAR (map)