Sunday, August 30, 2009

INTO THE YELLOW WOOD--PART THREE


That Singular Sensation




The opening night of Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN was a dazzling, if improbable success. Curley’s missed entrance during the bunkhouse scene, and the hilarious five-minute improvisation that it provoked, only added to the joy of bring this beloved American story to life.

In the final scene, a lynch mob is chasing Lennie, the big, retarded sidekick. The ranch hands are intent on hanging him in the nearest California oak. George decides he will execute (euthanize) his friend himself to spare Lennie the terror and pain of being strung up by the gang of drunken roughnecks.

The director, Stan DeHart, having limited high school resources, decided to stage the climactic moment by having George lower a large handgun to the back of Lennie’s head. Just before the shot, the lights would crash to blackout, so that the actual mercy-killing would happen in the dark. DeHart had found a realistic 45-caliber handgun into which he had loaded an extra high-powder blank.



It went something like this:

Are we gonna have rabbits, George?

Lots of rabbits, any kind you want.

And I get to hold the rabbits?

Take off your hat, Lennie. The air is fine.


George strokes Lennie’s hair. Sounds of drunken men yelling close by.


Tell me about the place we gonna have.

We’re gonna have a little place all our own. It’s right across the river. Just look across the river and you can almost see it.



George brings the gun out from his coat and lowers it to Lennie’s head.


Pause.

Blackout!


Pause.

KA-BLAM!

The blank detonates with a muzzle flash so bright that the audience can see Lennie’s body blasted forward. His body hits the floor.

Long deep silence. No one is clapping.

Then, at last, from out in the audience, a lanky, lovely lass (Judy Vance), begins to sob. It is contagious. There, in the dark, other people begin to cry. Soon the entire audience is in tears.

Backstage, members of the cast and crew are blubbering.

From his position on the stage floor, dead Lennie is weeping.

I’m standing there over Lennie’s body, in the dark, with the big fake 45-caliber gun in my hand, listening, just listening to it all. Surrounded by it, immersed in it, the great communal sharing of deepest emotion, the ephemeral, transformational power of the moment, coming together right NOW in this place, to experience the wondrous story of human love and loss.

I knew in that singular moment, in a flash of certainty as bright as a muzzle flash, into which profession I would take my life.

Perhaps it would be more truthful to say that, in that exact moment, on that hallowed stage, my life found me.

INTO THE YELLOW WOOD--PART TWO




Of Drums and Drama



DeHart was casting two plays that would run in rotating rep, Capek’s idiosyncratic INSECT COMEDY and Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN. I auditioned for both figuring I would get a bug part in the Capek. In fact, I got two bug parts, an Ant, and the Second Dung Beetle. Let me interject here that my show-stopping performance as the Second Dung Beetle became legendary among beetles and dung eaters of all kinds.


With no acting experience I figured I might get a ranch hand walk-on in the Steinbeck.


I was wrong.


DeHart pulls me aside and tells me that he is going to cast me in the lead role of “George.”



Say what?


DeHart continues, “but if I give you this role can I count on you to give me back 100% of your time and devotion?”


Good question.

In addition to Judy Vance, I had one other thing going for me at Florida High School. By the end of my freshman year I had inherited the drum section of the high school band. I was the lead snare drummer and had built my own little drum corps, particularly David Kahler and Ed “the Crow” Levine. Beyond that, I had formed a little extracurricular combo with Mike “Spider” Brown, a drum and piano duo we called “Robert, Bruce, and the Spider” (Scottish folklore; Google it). I was Robert, Mike was the Spider, and we were hoping to eventually recruit a bass player named Bruce, or a bass player who would be willing to change his name to Bruce.

Yes, I was the hot shit drummer at Florida High. People finally knew my name. I had credibility.

That spring “Robert, Bruce, and the Spider” competed in the Florida High Talent show. We took second place, and let me go on record, we were cheated. Cheated! Damn you stars of destiny and faculty wimps!

First place was won by a trio of “folksingers” who styled themselves “The Landsmen” and sang stirring numbers like “Cool Water” and “Cruel War.”

By time the talent show rolled around, I had mastered Joe Morello’s 5/4 licks from “Take Five” and could lay down that incredible 9/8 insanity from “Blue Rondo a la Turk.”

Let’s stop for a moment and do a little 9/8 time together. This is audience participation.



I’m serious.



Sing the following riff as fast as you can:

One two, One two, One Two, One two three
One two, One two, One Two, One two three
One two, One two, One Two, One two three
One Two three, one Two three, one Two three

One two, One two, One Two, One two three
One two, One two, One Two, One two three
One two, One two, One Two, One two three
One Two three, one Two three, one Two three

Yeah! You got it didn't you?

Spider and I threw a little of that Dave Brubeck 9/8 stuff in the middle of our talent show number. I’ll tell you one more thing, Spider Brown could flat out flail the boogie woogie on the ivories. He had amazingly long fingers, which is why they called him Spider, duh. We rocked the Florida High auditorium.

But we took second place. We were, thinking back on it, a bit too “hip” for our little Southern high school.

Anyway, excuse my lengthy, but necessary, percussion digression, and let’s get back to DeHart’s question,


“if I give you this role can I count on you to give me back 100% of your time and devotion?”


I was heavily invested in my drum duties as section leader. The band director, Glen Heinlen, expected me to devote serious summer hours training the incoming freshmen percussionists. I explained this conflict of duties to Stan DeHart. His reply is still quoted by my friends and his:

“You can drammie dram dram. Or you can drummie drum drum.”

“Pick one.”

I picked.

INTO THE YELLOW WOOD--PART ONE


THE MAP OF A LIFE

Introduction

This series of blog posts are about choice points in my life that have led me to where I am. The title is inspired by the Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not taken.” I was going to use “Roads Less Traveled” as the title for this series, but I figured that phrase had been boosted and abused enough. Frost’s poem is about making dangerous or unpredictable choices. Over the arc of a life there are many points where you can choose the safe and known path . . . or the wild and unknown path. Sometimes you really don’t know which is which. A choice that seems safe results in an ambush or a dead end.

Isn’t it fun to look back at those choices?

Most of the turning points in our young lives are beyond our control. Parents get divorced and remarry. We move here and there, start new schools, get new teachers, make new friends. People live. People die. People come and go. Nothing we can do about it. We’re just too young. We have no power. It’s karma . . . our karma to be sure, but free will or making our own choices are not a part of it.

Then we grow into the power to think and make decisions for ourselves. Now dharma becomes an increasingly important aspect of our path. Karma and dharma, twirling around each other in the mad dance of human life.

These blogs are about dharma, the decisions of a free mind, and the karmic consequences of those decisions.

Part One
DeSoto or DeGirl?

The summer before my junior year in high school was supposed to be the Summer of My First Car. Working all summer to save the cash to buy wheels was a right of passage for most red-blooded American boys. For me, owning a car went beyond the usual teenage longing for prestige and independence. I lived more than ten miles from the high school and more than five miles out of town. Utterly dependent for transportation to go anywhere important, I was trapped out in the country with alcoholic and abusive parents. Buying my own car meant escape from the Dickensian hell of my home.

That was the same summer the high school drama teacher, Stan deHart, was planning to launch his Summer Drama Institute. Mr. DeHart was an intense and charismatic new faculty member at Florida High. Much later I learned that drama teachers everywhere are notorious for causing trouble, and DeHart was a shit-disturber of the highest order. I had admired him from afar, but had no classes with him. My few close friends were excited about auditioning for DeHart’s Institute. That little group included my sweetheart, Judy Vance.

I was madly in love with Judy Vance. Mad to the tenth power.

Judy, the daughter of a professor, was more sophisticated than I was, more educated, and frankly, out of my league. For some inexplicable reason, she was in love with me. I was a military brat, rough around the edges, and given to brooding. Long ago I gave up trying to figure out these matters of the heart.

Judy wanted me to spend the summer with her, playing together in the drama project. She didn’t exactly give me an ultimatum, “me or the DeSoto,” but she let me know how hurt she would be if I didn’t audition with her . . . and how much fun we would have together if I did. Get your mind out of the gutter. In those times in the Deep South, “fun” did not mean “sex.” We were na├»ve small town teenagers. A boy’s hand sliding one inch below the girl’s waistline would be forcefully removed.

No, it wasn’t an ultimatum, but it was certainly a choice, a hard one, and one with more consequences than I could have imagined in my wildest teenage fantasies.

I auditioned.

Friday, August 28, 2009

HIP HIP HOORAH FOR MADELINE!

My wife and I have been having an 8 month affair with Madeline. Secret meetings, never calling her home phone number, destroying any paper trail that might link us to her, especially documents that might allude to our profession. Shhhhh! Real estate agents.

Madeline (not her real name) has been house hunting on the sly. We are her co-conspirators, sneaking around town and entering homes for sale. We don’t have to break in, exactly; we do have licenses and lockbox keys, and computers and offices, and reputations, and stuff like that.

What we don’t have, that Madeline does have, is a scary, abusive boy friend. This “man” has not physically assaulted her (that we know about), but he is a verbal and emotional rapist, a skilled bully, and a master manipulator. “If you ever leave me, I’ll kill myself.” Do you know this asshole? I bet you do.

Except for her propensity to hook up with soul-sucking vampires, Madeline is an otherwise sharp cookie, and in fact, the kind of tough broad I really like. Her profession? Maintenance technician. Madeline is a janitor. She can re-seat a toilet on a new wax seal faster than you can. Madeline’s got game. She’s also got some good common sense and had managed to save and hide about $200,000. She planned on putting down $60,000 (about 20%) and borrowing the rest.

So for 8 months we shopped for Madeline’s sanctuary. Like most of the buyers today, she was stuck on “foreclosures and short sales.” She thought “distressed property” was a magic incantation that would conjure the deal of the century. Seven failed offers later (I’m not making this up), my wife finally found the perfect home for her. It was not a short sale or bank-owned home, though it was being sold by the trustees of an elderly woman who had found her own sanctuary in a local care facility.

I’ll use the real numbers here. The asking price was $299,000 which Maddy was eager to pay. I had to talk her into making a lower offer. She wanted this house! Buyer and seller agreed on $289,000. Let’s blast through the usual escrow ups and downs, appraisal, inspections, loan conditions, repairs, contingencies, and mountains of paperwork. Yesterday afternoon, the title officer called with the real magic words “We’re on record.”

I drove into Auburn at sundown, one of those beautiful evenings, warm and soft. I kept reaching down to feel her keys in my pocket; just making sure they were still there. We met at her new home and gave each other a hug. We turned and looked at Sanctuary, sitting up there on its own quiet hill, surrounded by tall pines and old oaks. We imagined what it was going to look like with a fresh coat of paint, her choice of colors.

I felt pretty damn good. Ya’ think?

So, why don’t you join me in a round of applause? Raise your glasses high, and let’s give a big cheer, Hip Hip Hoorah for Madeline!

NEGOTIATING THE SALES PRICE OF A HOUSE

In this buyer’s real estate market I have noticed three common negotiating psychologies.

Let’s start with an asking price of $200,000 for an average suburban home. Of course, there are many mitigating factors. How long has it been for sale? What’s the condition? Has there been a price reduction already? What else is available in the area? And so on.

Negotiating psychology #1. The buyer really, really wants this house. Buyer feels that it is worth the asking price. Buyer is willing to pay asking price. But it’s only “good business” to offer less and see what kind of price reduction might be possible—without pissing off the seller. Remember, the buyer wants this house. Here’s a typical offer and counter offer sequence:

Buyer offers $180,000.
Seller counters $195,000
Buyer re-counters $185,000
Seller re-counters $190,000
Buyer accepts $190,000

Buyer is happy, seller is happy. Remember, this is a buyer’s market and the seller will usually give some discount.

Negotiating psychology #2. This is the meet-in-the-middle psychology. The buyer wants the house, but will not be broken-hearted if the negotiation fails. Buyer feels that the house is over-priced or, perhaps, it’s just more than the buyer can afford. Buyer, coached by an adroit realtor (yep, that was a commercial), understands that the seller has “padded” the asking price to eventually arrive at the price that the seller really wants. Buyer picks a point square in the middle between asking price and buyer’s offer price. Essentially, buyer is saying, I’ll come up the same amount that you come down. Fair is fair. Even-steven. Typical sequence:

Buyer offers $140,000

Stop. Remember, this is a buyer’s market and buyer’s can get away with his kind of “low-ball” offer. What is buyer after? The point half-way between asking price and offer price, that is, $170,000.

Seller counters $190,000
Buyer re-counters $150,000

OK, the game’s afoot. Both sides know the rules. Equal reductions and raises will arrive at $170,000. It’s in the seller’s court. If $170,000 is acceptable as a final price, seller will signal such with a re-counter of $180,000. If $170,000 is too low for seller, seller will do one of two things (a) re-counter at his previous number of $190,000; this is a sign-off; take it or leave it (b) re-counter at $185,000. We can still talk, but, Bubba, it ain’t gonna get to the middle.

Seller re-counters at $180,000
Buyer re-counters at $160,000

At this point, if not before, the realtors will probably confer off the record, asking each other if $170,000 will work. Yes? It will? OK.
Seller re-counters at $170,000
Buyer accepts at $170,000

Not bad. Both parties feel pretty good about the final price. Have you seen the flaw in this scenario? Hmmmm? Fifty imperial blog points if you can tell me what's arbitrary about this sequence of offer and counter offers.

Negotiating psychology #3. Buyer likes the house, but only at a bargain price. Buyer thinks the asking price is way too high.

Buyer offers $125,000

Seller is royally pissed, and probably worried. Seller wants to tell buyer to “get stuffed,” but seller’s adroit realtor calms seller down. “Let’s see what buyer is up to.”

Seller counters $185,000.
Buyer re-counters at $135,000
Seller re-counters at $180,000
Buyer re-counters at $135,000 (!)

Buyer’s cards are on the table. Seller now knows buyer’s final offer is probably $135,000. There will be no meeting in the middle. Negotiations are over unless the seller is desperate. It was a long shot anyway. Sigh. But let’s pretend that seller is desperate and makes a final effort to keep the buyer on the hook.

Seller re-counters $150,000 (seller has capitulated)
Buyer re-counters $140,000 (sends brother out for champagne)
Seller re-counters $145,000 (have mercy on me)
Buyer re-counters $140,000 ($140,000 is $5000 above my “final” offer. That is mercy.)
Seller accepts $140,000

Buyer is happy. Seller . . . well, seller might be bloodied . . . or secretly gleeful to dump the property at any price. Who knows?



Sure, these three scenarios are over-simplified, and lots of stuff can and will happen.

Emotions on either side can explode and the whole thing can shatter into little pieces.

Prices are often . . . weird. We get a counter at $171,836.89. WTF does that mean?

Both sides can agree on a price and the damned appraisal comes in $40,000 below the agreed price.

One side can have an adroit realtor, and the other side can have a weak realtor, giving one side an advantage over the other.

Some people are better poker players than their opponents.


In an upcoming post, I’ll discuss tactics for arriving at offer prices on bank-owned properties. Till then . . . Think Bob.

Friday, August 21, 2009

GETTING DONE WITH PLANTAR FASCIITIS

I spent five years and thousands of dollars getting to know plantar fasciitis. I’ll describe my journey and what I learned.

There are differing opinions about managing PF in the early stages. Barefoot or no-barefoot is one of the first conflicting ideas you may hear. One friend says he was advised to go around barefooted and it helped. But, when I first developed PF fifteen years ago, I was told never to barefooted. I still follow that advice and always try to have some support under my feet except for standing in the shower or stumbling to the head to takea pee at night.

The treatment of PF escalates through a fairly predictable sequence of protocols. It goes something like this.

First, you spend a few bucks on over-the-counter orthotics (arch supports) like Dr. Scholl’s. Might help if you have very mild PF, but probably not.

Anti-inflamatories and ice packs are good. Right? Sure. Heat, too. Alternate with ice. Fine.

Buy a book, read on-line articles, talk to friends. You’ll hear about various stretching exercises. I hope they work for you, but if you have a severe case, they will not. Sorry.

Custom orthotics! Wow, are they sexy! Take a mold of your feet, computer designs, one-of-a-kind composite, state-of-the-art polymer blah blah blah. Spend the $600, $800, or more. Guess what? Still hurts like hell.

OK. Give it up. Time for professional help. The friendly podiatrist knows all about PF. Get out your checkbook, because he also knows all kinds of ways to take your money. Let’s see, he’s got physical therapy complete with ultrasound, night splints, more stretches, super taping routines, and, saving the best for last, cortisone. Ta da! Oh yeah, baby, cortisone right in the ol’ plantar fascia. Two injections? Half a dozen?

So it’s five years of suffering and treatments that didn’t work, and I’m about to lose my freakin’ mind.

One day, a neighbor, who happens to be an anesthesiologist, listens to my story. “Brother,” says he, “you are too far gone for this mickey mouse crap. Why haven’t you got it cut?”

(small voice) “Cut?”

He goes on to tell me that he “gasses” for one of the top podiatric surgeons in Northern California. He says he’ll set it up and do the anesthesia himself. Won’t be cheap because it’s outside of my health care plan (Kaiser). Who cares? Just make it stop hurting!

On the appointed day I drive to San Jose, see the doc, get some x-rays. “Yep,” says the doc, “that’s one sorry-looking plantar fascia. The scar tissue is as thick as my thumb. How long have you been walking on that thing?”

“About 5 years.”

“%#*&*&#@*” (swear words)

“OK, Norman, let’s cut this guy.”

So, after some lovely anesthesia, I wake up with a smile on my face. PAIN FREE. I mean, no pain, not even from the operation. I wanted to cry, but being a manly man, of course, resisted. Within three days I was walking, within two weeks I was running.

I’ve been running ever since. No pain. I’m careful to not walk around barefooted, and I have these little blue wrap-around arch-support thingies I wear all the time, just in case, but I run, baby, run.

A couple of final notes. I believe that one of the main contributing causes of PF is carrying too much weight, as in fat. Do yourself, and your feet, a favor and keep yourself as trim as possible. Buy the best shoes and have them selected and fitted by an expert. Finally, if the protocols are not working, stop tossing good money at the problem. Find the best podiatric surgeon in the area and take care of it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Help! The Eskimos Are Sinking!

Go west from the Alaskan town of Bethel, almost to the coast, out in the tundra where the tallest vegetation doesn’t come up to your knee, is the dismal Yupik Eskimo town of Newtok.




Newtok, Alaska


This village of 350 suffering Eskimos is slowly sinking into the thawing permafrost. The Ninglick River is rapidly tearing away the shoreline. You walk around on plank sidewalks that squish into the muck. Every inch of ground is wet or underwater. Every puddle is a seething brew of E.Coli from the honey buckets that are emptied wherever possible. It’s a mess.

I don’t have to tell you what’s causing this. The permafrost turns into a soggy sponge, the glaciers melt and swell the rivers, ice packs recede leaving the coast unprotected from winter gales. Yep, global warming. Some say it’s not our fault. The Yupiks don’t agree. They’re begging for help, and while waiting for it, suing the U. S. government for its failure to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The young Yupik men play poker, drink moonshine, and cook meth. The high school girls search the hands of visitors for wedding rings. “Take me the hell out of here!” I know these things are true because my son, Luke, is up there right now trying to help these people relocate to higher ground.


Robert “Luke” Jenkins, USMC

Along with a handful of other enlisted Marines, a few soldiers, national guardsmen, and one inexplicable Air Force captain, Luke’s little task force is camped 9 wet river miles from Newtok. We’ve heard from him twice, late at night on a satellite phone that he, in the best tradition of the Corps, boosted from the Army. All things considered, the crummy weather, bad food, no booze, and few smokes, Luke says he’s happy. I believe him. He’s on the forward edge of the planetary battle lines fighting a war worth winning. He knows this. He’s profoundly aware of the great privilege he enjoys just being there and doing what he can in service to the Yupiks, his country, and all of us down below. My son, the warrior. Could any dad be more proud?

If you have the software, use Google Earth get a glimpse of Newtok, Alaska. The shot above is a couple of years old, so you can imagine it now, mostly underwater. You can also Google Newtol, Alaska to read about the deplorable conditions Yupik Eskimos are enduring.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

LET'S RAISE OUR GLASS TO WARREN

Warren is a 46 year old bachelor who has rented a condominium at $900 a month for almost 10 years. He has never owned his own home. Over the years he has kept his credit clean and managed to scrape together $35,000 that he keeps in a low-yield CD.

Warren walked into an open house I was holding in a nearby condominium. I had it for sale at $149,000. We got to talking, and we started scribbling numbers. If we could get the sale price down to $139,000, we calculated that he could buy the condominium with a 20% down payment and end up with a monthly nut of $865. That nut included his mortgage payment, taxes, homeowners association dues, and a little insurance policy for his personal stuff.

I was, in fact, able to negotiate a sale price of $139,000. We found Warren a conventional 30 year fixed-rate loan at 5.25% with one point for the broker. Over, under, and through the obstacles of today’s typical escrow we climbed, crawled, and blasted.

Yesterday, I presented him with the keys to his own place where he pays $35 less than he was paying on rent a month ago. Did I fail to mention his excellent first-time home buyer’s credit of $8000 and the usual mortgage interest adjustment to gross income that he will enjoy next year for the first time in his life and every year thereafter?

In these grim days of real estate gloom and doom, there are terrific success stories, and Warren is one of them. What do you say? Let’s raise our glass and toast to the success and happiness of Warren!

He’s an ex-Marine, by the way, so I’d like to add, “Semper Fi, Brother!”

Friday, August 14, 2009

PROFESSIONAL COURTESY (A Story)

The cat's true name is both unpronounceable and incomprehensible to those unfortunate to be born, regrettably, a creature other than feline. The cat's true name arises of itself from the twisty bundle of smells, sights, sounds, instincts, genetics, ancestry and divinity that is this, and only this, particular . . . cat. Having no words to express the cat's true name, we are left with the sorry alternative of simply calling her . . . Cat.

Cat is ecstatic with the joy of the chase. Neither ecstasy nor joy quite describe Cat's feelings, but it's as close as we can get in language unless you have a better idea. Here are the facts: for several hours Cat stalks, corners, and then, with simple speed, attempts to run Mouse to ground. What a mouse she is! Supple, agile, unpredictable, and . . . clever. Mouse escapes every trick and trap in Cat's bag. But at last Mouse tires, and Cat knows capture is within reach.
(flash of claws)

"Damn. Missed. Where'd you go? Oh you are the most sly little darling! Let's see . . . under here! No. Maybe . . . over. . . here! There you are. Oh just scooty scooty scoot, my tiny little toot. Here . . . I . . . come . . .

(flash of claws)

"Gotcha!"

Stops.

Beneath the vaporous moon, Coyote pads along the San Juan Ridge. Long time since he's wandered the hazy hills. After big fires, he needs to look things over. It's his domain. You understand. Coyote rounds a turn in the trail.

Stops.

"Oh . . . Coyote.

"Oh . . . Cat. My dear, you are . . . very . . . far . . . from . . . home."

"Senor, I seem to be . . . lost."

"Yes, mi amore, lost you certainly are."

"I was chasing Mouse. She kept darting from beneath my claws."

"Shhhh."

"In my hunger to catch her, I didn't pay attention to where I was . . ."

"Shhhh. Shhhhh. Doesn't matter, does it?"

"No . . . it doesn't.

"Tonight, one will be eaten, one will feed, and one will escape with a story. Hmmm. But which?"

"Don't toy with me."

"Very well. Go home, Mouse, and tell your children about the night Coyote saved you."

With a deep breath, Cat sighs, and releases Mouse. The little one scurries to the edge of a shadow, dips her head toward Coyote in a flicker of obeisance, and vanishes into the darkness.

"Will you be swift with me?"

"Are you swift with Mouse you catch and torment?"

"But, Senor, Mouse is prey . . . and you and I are masters."

"Ha. Excellent point. I shall be quick."

"Call it . . . professional courtesy, killer to killer."

"Professional courtesy. Just so."

"May I take a last look around?"

"Take your time, my darling."

"How slippery and sleek the moon."

"It is."

"How fresh the breeze after all the smoke from the . . ."

(flash of teeth)

Quick it is.

FACEBRECHT!

BERTOLT BRECHT WOULD LOVE SOCIAL MEDIA. It’s the closest thing we’ve got to a genuine radical theatre. It’s largely improvisational, but thrives on powerful language and images. It requires intense interactive engagement between players and audience with no happy endings and a constant spur to political action. Vote. Support. Educate. Change minds. Send money to the Cause. Most important, it belongs to the people. GOOD WOMAN OF FACEBOOK. MOTHER INTERNET AND HER CHILDREN. THE THREE TWITTER OPERA.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Real Estate Appraisals and Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg

After my house burned down in 1992, I hired a “public adjuster” to battle the insurance company. My wife loathed him. “He’s a low class, ambulance-chasing, asshole,” opined my darling Christine. “Yes, my Dove, but he’s MY low class, ambulance-chasing asshole.”

The asshole, whom I shall refer to hereafter as “Bubba” taught me many interesting things about how the world worked. Of particular interest was his guidance in negotiating a settlement for Christine’s mommy van that, parked in the garage, melted down to the rims in the fire.

Now, what does this have to do with real estate? Stick with me. Wait for the pay off. It’s gonna come, you bet.

Bubba sez:

“Most people in the insurance biz, especially the adjusters, hate their job. They’re underpaid, overworked, abused, unmotivated, and lazy. You need to take advantage of that. Do their work for them. Make it easy for them. Build a bullet-proof case for them, wrap it in a bow, and give it to them so they can look good in front of their supervisors. Before you meet with them the first time . . . Hey, Bob! Are you listening to me? Snap out of it. . . . Before you ever sit down with them, put your request, your demand, your proposal together in writing. Get out to the car lot; find the “real” replacement value for your year, make, and model, not the “blue book.” Get the salesman to write down the total, out-the-door cost for you, extended warranty, undercoating, taxes, registration, the whole thing. If you have good maintenance records, put those into the proposal as well to demonstrate that the car was in cherry condition. If you have a good photo, add it too. Put it all together and make it look as formal and intimidating as you can.”

Here comes the punch line.

You have to get your number on the table, before the adjuster gets her number on the table.

This is absolutely critical. If the adjuster goes through the effort to generate her number, then you have put her in a position where she must defend herself and her number. You are attacking uphill against an enemy already entrenched on the high ground. Remember Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg?”

OK, stop for a minute. Bubba didn’t really rap about Pickett’s charge. That’s all me just getting carried away. Bubba don’t know squat about Gettysburg.

Bubba, annoyed with my interruption, continues:

“You need to be the one entrenched behind a bullet-proof proposal. Make the adjuster have to prove that your number is wrong. Make her attack uphill. Oh my dear adjuster, that sounds a lot like . . . work! Sounds like conflict and confrontation. Stress. Energy. Danger. What if you get your lawyer involved? Or worse. Bubba the Asshole?”

Following Bubba’s wise council, I arrived at the claims office with my impressive written proposal and politely insisted on $13,000 for the van. The adjuster, consulting the “blue book” sputtered that the high blue book value was only $11,000. I presented my hard evidence that it would cost me $13,000 to find an exact replacement. More sputtering and fifteen minutes behind closed doors with her supervisor . . . and my formal proposal . . . she returns with the news that the most they can go for is $12,000.

Not even cracking a smile, I solemnly shake hands. It’s a deal. $1,000 above blue book.

Real Estate. We are worried sick that the appraisers, under the regulations of HVCC (the Home Valuation Code of Conduct) will undervalue our properties and kill our transactions. I suggest that, rather than sitting around passively and hoping that the appraiser’s number will support your price, you prepare a bullet-proof BPO (Broker Price Opinion) yourself with all the documentation you can provide, anything and everything that supports your price. Make it thick. Make it formal. Make it intimidating. Make it look really sharp. C’mon do the work! This is more than “showing up with the comps” and talking a bunch of bullshit with the appraiser.

You must get your hard evidence on the table before she does!

Make her attack uphill against your defenses. Give her everything she needs to make your case for you.

Do it all with the grace and elegance of a refined lady, a southern gentleman.

What if the appraiser won’t even take your documents? She’s snotty and arrogant. “Don’t try to influence me!” If her number comes in too low, you may have to challenge the appraisal. To do that you will need a solid case. Guess what? You already have it! You will be counter-attacking downhill with all your evidence in good order. Poor General Pickett. He never had a chance.