Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ask the Broke Broker…Solvent Advice From an Insolvent Expert

Since the commercial real estate business is EXTREMELY SLOW, we here at Sperry Van Ness/Fiducia Properties are approaching things from a different angle and have chosen to dust this column off the hard drive and publish it for the very first time here today on Finley River. We hope you enjoy.


Today is the first of one installments of Ask the Broke Broker, the advice column which seeks to enlighten the business community on the proper usage of business terminology and paper clips.

Question: Mr. Broke Broker, what is the correct definition of a Statue of Limitation?

Mr. BB: Excellent Question! The short answer is I don't know. The long answer is that a Statue of Limitation is a figurine made of granite or marble which memorializes great business pioneers who risked it all and lost it, only to never try again. This term should not be confused with Statute of Limitation, which is the typical amount of time one may avoid paying his attorney before said attorney terminates your fiduciary relationship and free coffee.

Question: In common real estate vernacular, should I refer to a parcel of land as a track of land or a tract of land?

Mr. BB: Neither. I've checked with a variety of nationally recognized real estate experts (and game show host Donald Trump) and the correct terminology is "dirt."

Question: Mr. BB, I have another real estate question. I received a title report on my property which described my house lot as Lot 4, Bubba's Plat, First Edition. Shouldn't that be "First Addition," and if so, will my title be properly insured?

Mr. BB: You are very astute in recognizing this error. Should unforeseen encumbrances later surface which affect clear title on your lot, you WILL NOT be insured. Regarding usage of the term First Edition, intellectual property experts agree that usage of this term is precluded by a trademark secured by artist and former theme park owner and pineapple pitchman Kenny Rogers in 1967 when he and three other former New Christy Minstrels formed the group Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. By the way, tell Bubba to name his next plat after his daughter.

Question: Mr. Broke Broker, I don't know anything about sports, but in business settings I keep hearing terms like "slam dunk, " "hit it out of the park," and the "whole nine yards." What do these terms mean?

Mr. BB: Without resorting to "psychobabble," you are dealing with frustrated jocks who on the one hand, couldn't memo their way out of a paper bag and are skating on thin ice and need to signal fair catch or call time out. On the other side of the totem pole flip side of the corporate ladder, these specific terms all relate to guys who seem to be down for the count and are really, really, behind the cue ball. As a personal note, I prefer mixing it up and confusing co-workers in business meetings by exchanging the use of "whole nine yards" for the more preferred "whole enchilada."

Question: My accountant recommends I undertake something called estate planning? What are your thoughts on this topic?

Mr. BB: Contract your funeral director. This is a business column.

Question: No, no. I think estate planning has something to do with wills, trusts, etc. Does this change your advice?

Mr. BB: It depends. Please send me your asset list and I'll provide you the correct spelling of my non-pen name.

Question: What is the difference between "business dress" and "business casual."

Mr. BB: Depending on the retailer, about $275, or 353.54 New Zealand Dollars.

Question: Someone accused me of "tortuous interference of business practices." Should I be concerned about this?

Mr. BB: Not if you have a public defender who is well trained in corporate litigation.

Question: I heard someone talk about buying silver on margin. This is a new term for me. What is its origin?

Mr. BB: The term margin has its origin in ancient papyrus known as Big Chief Tablet. Often the silver crayon from the 64 Crayola set was used to color on the Big Chief Tablet, hence the phrase "silver on margin." Unfortunately I never experienced "silver on margin" as my parents would only purchase the 16 Crayola set which was devoid of the silver crayon.

This concludes today's Addition. We sincerely hope our time here has improved your business savvy. Keep those questions (and 64 Crayola sets) coming to Mr. Broke Broker where our motto is: Solvency—What's All the Fuss About?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Courthouse Signs

In the operation of my not-for-profit real estate business, I have the opportunity to visit a number of county courthouses throughout the Midwest and South. Now please understand this involves me undertaking painstaking research and does not mean that I visit court-rooms. Instead, I hang out in assessors' and recorders' offices, trying to figure out what you own and how much you overpaid for it (you did—by A LOT). I do this not to enhance my chances of making money. I simply do it because, by virtue of an intrusive piece of Federal legislation called the Freedom of Information Act, I CAN.

During the course of my research, I've observed that signs play critical roles in the typical courthouse decorating scheme. Besides the usual signs you see in courthouses, things like "Exit", "Prosecuting Attorney," "No Weapons," and "We're Closed On Every Holiday Known to Man, Including Cinco De Mayo," I've noticed some other interesting and informative signs which are worth mentioning here.

A recent business junket which took me to several courthouses in Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa uncovered a disappointing discriminatory phenomenon—most men's bathrooms are in the basement. To make matters worse, one county courthouse in Iowa, which shall remain nameless because I can't remember where it was, blatantly reveals that the so-called "gender gap" is alive and well. While pleasantly referring to the ladies room as the "Ladies' Restroom," this courthouse's signage simply refers to the men's bathroom as the "Men's Toilet." Why not just call it a latrine or "the head?" We men have feelings too, you know!

A second observation, apparently uniquely problematic in Missouri, is that the number one public safety issue is not handguns or knives or reality television. The number one problem plaguing Missouri courthouse is in fact chewing tobacco. Now I haven't been in every courthouse in Missouri, but in at least two counties I visited last January the issue commanded a good bit of signage.

Consider this ominous posting observed in the Livingston County Courthouse in Chillicothe, Missouri: "Please do not spit chewing tobacco on the floor." Perhaps well meaning county commissioners, when enacting the legislation behind this signage, didn't realize that banning spittoons from county buildings in 1957 triggered this problem. Return the spittoons, I say. What's a fella supposed to do, swallow?

Down in Dallas County, Missouri, at its courthouse in Hartville, one must go into the men's bathroom, er toilet (the head) before discovering that chewing tobacco is alive, well, and NOT swallowed. Consider this intimidating sign observed in the men's bathroom: PLEASE DO NOT PUT CHEWING TOBACCO IN THE URINALS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! For the sake of accuracy, I have typed 18 exclamation points after this request, in the exact same manner as the sign's author.

The above sign is understandable. I've witnessed this problem. Chewing tobacco definitely compromises the standard issue courthouse urinal's ability to effectively flush chewing gum, cigarettes, and handguns. Indeed, eschewing chew in the loo is overdue and should be pursued.

Let's assume that the average patron of the Dallas County Courthouse men's room (which by the way is not in the basement) tries to abide by this command. Well, he probably feels a little confused, bewildered, and like he just plain can't win when he reads the sign over the paper towels (this assumes he has washed his hands). This sign offers a contradictory message: "PLEASE EMPTY ALL CONTAINERS BEFORE PLACING IN TRASH. Thank You! (Note 1 exclamation point; "Thank You" not in caps).

So what's a guy to do here? Let's say after several minutes of anguish he's decided not to spit on the courthouse floors. So, he goes into the bathroom to spit out his dip or chaw. He's confronted with "the sign" then decides he better spit everything out into his styrofoam coffee cup. Then he goes to dump the cup in the trash can but instead washes his hands. At that point he is directed not to place the cup into the trash without emptying its contents. So he goes back to the urinal and is beaten over the head with sign number 1. Then he walks back and forth from the trashcan to the urinal; the urinal to the trashcan; the trashcan to the urinal, and so on for what seems like an eternity. It seems like he's found himself in and endless computer loop until he sees the traditional toilet. He then proceeds to swallow the contents of his cup to avoid walking the extra fifteen feet.

But problems in courthouses are in no way limited to certain counties, or regions or even states. Take Wilson County, Kansas for instance. Public enemy number one in that county's courthouse (found in the city of Fredonia) is none other than begging. Its courthouse signs boldly warn: "NO BEGGING." Perhaps county officials there are tired of the citizenry begging for a personal stimulus package.

And how about Warren County, Missouri? A sign at its courthouse in (surprisingly) Warrenton, greets you at the front door cautioning: "No Concealed Weapons." Presumably one can brandish a .357 Magnum while entering the front door as long as it is in plain view. But Warren County, in the true courthouse sign spirit, saves its most intriguing and insightful signs for the bathroom. Outside the restroom doors in the courthouse annex, signs plead: "As a courtesy to others, please do not tie up the restroom by making personal phone calls." After reading these signs, I couldn't tell what the true issue is. Is the real problem that employees were tying up bathrooms, forcing co-workers to jump up and down outside the door while waiting for the bathroom to be vacated? Or, is the real issue that personal phone calls were being made in the bathrooms, rather than from the office phones where everyone knows personal phone calls are supposed to be made. Would the same outrage exist if the restrooms were being tied up because of an overuse and abundance of business phone calls? Don't bet on it!

I can tell you're begging me to wrap this up, so I'll just tell you to go read the sign in Fredonia, Kansas. But I actually don't mind your begging, just as long as you don't spit that nasty chaw on me. Spit it on your office floor while making a personal phone call.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tom Watson: Some Final Thoughts

I exchanged emails Monday with my friend Allen Reed from Lawrence, Kansas. The topic was of course Tom Watson and the beauty of what he had accomplished over the weekend in Scotland. It seemed like for both Allen and me, Tom Watson's effort had rekindled passions and emotions for sports which had at some level subsided as we've gotten older.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Watson's run at the Open Championship was the way it bridged generations. When we talk to our sons and daughters about great athletes of our youth, we typically have to compare them with a modern-day athlete for a frame of reference. We may tell our children about Bret Saberhagen or Steve Busby and make comparisons with say, Zack Greinke . They may ask us if Len Dawson was better than Trent Green and we try to frame the greatness we witnessed in our youth against something they can grasp today.

But last weekend, watching the events at Turnberry, it was different. Father and son could both marvel at Watson in real time. It was like I was watching Watson with my 14-year-old as a 14-year-old myself. It was as if my 17-year-old and I were high school golfing buddies both watching our idol at the same time. Imagine watching with your son this coming October as George Brett suits up to go 4 for 4 with a walk-off home run in game 7 of the World Series. Imagine traveling to Arrowhead with your son in January to watch Len Dawson conduct a game-winning drive to beat the Raiders in the AFC championship game. That's what it was like last weekend. We didn't have to tell them how good Watson was. Watson showed them. And he showed them better than our words and stories could have ever done justice.

I think the beauty of what Watson did over the weekend is that he brought each of us back to a time when things were just a little bit simpler. He brought us back to a time that contained the priceless expectations of youth—a time where our tomorrows far outnumbered our yesterdays. And while going there, Watson let me bring my sons along with me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Lesson That is Tom Watson

The numbing sadness of Tom Watson's playoff loss to Stewart Cink in the Open Championship has not yet begun to subside. For a little over three days we dared to dream what was not just improbable, but by all accounts impossible. The Kansas Citian's bid to become the oldest major champion in golf, at just shy of 60 years of age, would not have been considered a plausible plot for even a Disney fairy tale. At age 59 (and 300+ days) you're just supposed to show up and give the fans a bit of nostalgia. You're supposed to just show your face so that fathers and grandfathers can point you out and tell their children and grandchildren that you are a living legend standing before them. Then, on Saturday after you've missed the cut, you're supposed to take your place in the broadcast booth and commentate and critique and reminisce.

But Tom Watson was not content to play the role of elder statesman or broadcaster this past weekend at Turnberry Golf Club on the western coast of Scotland. He showed up to compete, and on Thursday he said he felt like he was playing well enough to win. Then, he looked like he could make the cut. Then, he looked like he actually could win. Then, we believed he must win. We dreamed the impossible dream right along with him. And we were swept away by something of which our minds could have never conceived. We were swept away by what seemed like certain destiny, something that we were sure we wouldn't witness again in our lifetimes. As one national writer said yesterday….Watson was on the "precipice of the greatest accomplishment in the history of golf."

But we fell from the precipice into the chasm below as a missed par putt on 18 and four abysmal playoff holes unfolded before us. And our dreams were dashed. And now the pain of what might have been cuts deeper because we dared to dream it. We lament that it would have been better for Watson to have not made the cut. We cry foul. And if we had believed in something that many call the "golf gods," we'd shake our fist at them in anger. We wonder if it would have been better to not have been swept away by the dream in the first place than to awake to its gut-wrenching conclusion.

I must confess that I don't believe in the golf gods. I believe in the one true God that gives and takes away for His good pleasure, and I'm not going to speculate on how much (or if) He cares about golf's major championships. But one thing is certain, on a human level Tom Watson taught us many things over these last few days.

Tom Watson taught us the value of never giving up and of never letting anyone tell you you're too old to play competitively. He taught us the value of staying in good physical condition and of staying sharp mentally. He reminded us that golf is a "gentleman's game" and that one can be the fiercest of competitors while still being an exemplary sportsman. He showed us that golf truly is a "lifetime sport" and can be enjoyed in a multi-generational fashion.

But the lesson that is Tom Watson transcends the golf course. It transcends sports. Watson taught us this week that life is to be lived from the cradle to the grave. He taught us that we should dream big dreams. He taught us to live for as long as we have breath to breathe. Maybe after watching Tom Watson this weekend it will be a little easier to get out of bed tomorrow morning. Maybe we can push through the arthritis or the pulled muscle or other little ailments that have held us back. Maybe someone will start writing that book they've always wanted to write. Maybe someone will take up a new hobby they thought they had been too old to begin. Maybe someone will go back to school to pursue and education they had to put on hold for some reason. Maybe someone with cancer will be inspired the way Watson inspired Seve Ballesteros, who after suffering through four surgeries for a malignant brain tumor, says Watson has caused him to dream of coming back to St. Andrews in 2010 to compete in the Open to thank the fans who've supported him over the years.

There was a little piece of all of us that trod Turnberry's fairways this weekend with Tom Watson. And because of Tom Watson, we can wake up tomorrow morning and dare to dream a little bigger.