One Thing & Another

Delray Beach, FL

Notes From My Journal: A Bit of Navel Gazing

Am I a Poet or What?

I write poetry. I’ve written poetry on and off since I was 12. In the past 15 years, I’ve written more than a thousand poems. But I am haunted by doubt. Am I a poet?

I’d like to think I am. But I don’t write poetry like WB Yeats did. Or Charles Bukowski. I’ve had only a handful of my poems published in legit literary magazines. The bulk of them are stored in my computer. Several hundred have been printed in books I’ve more or less self-published.

Lots of poets self-publish, I tell myself. But usually only their first works. So am I a poet? Or a wannabe? Or a fraud?

I can’t say. I can say with some confidence that I’m a writer since nearly a dozen of my books were published by major publishing houses. And several of them sold well.  Two were NYT bestsellers.

I can’t say that about my poetry books. I publish them because my hit-and-miss efforts to find a publisher failed. Had I tried harder, perhaps something would have happened. But I suspect at least part of the problem is that my poetry is not all that good.

But so long as I write poetry, am I not a poet? Is a mediocre plumber not a plumber? That’s what I’d like to think.

But is it correct?

So I continue to write and I continue to wonder: Can I call myself a poet?

 

Today’s Word: congeries (noun)

Congeries (KON-juh-rees) is an assemblage. As used by the writer Cynthia Ozick: “I’m not afraid of facts. I welcome facts but a congeries of facts is not equivalent to an idea. This is the essential fallacy of the so-called scientific mind. People who mistake facts for ideas are incomplete thinkers; they are gossips.”

 

 Fun Fact

When the moon is overhead, you weigh slightly less.

 

From My “Work-in-Progress” Basket

Buying Real Estate in a Declining Market

On Thursday, I told you a story about how I lost money by “land banking.” Today, I’ll tell you a story with (for me) a happier ending.

“I can’t change what you think,” I said to JP.

We were talking about the little cottage next to my house. I had been renting it from JP and using it for storage for years. I wanted to buy it, but every time I tried, JP said he wasn’t interested. Then one day – at the height of the real estate bubble market (the end of 2006) – he decided to sell. But the price he was asking, $2 million, was considerably more than I felt it was worth.

“Let me ask you,” I continued. “Did your broker suggest you could get $2 million?”

“He did,” JP admitted. “But so what?”

Overestimating a property’s value is a trick some brokers use to get listings. They tell the homeowner what he wants to hear: that his property is worth a lot more than it is, i.e., more than other brokers have suggested. Feeling good about the higher price, the homeowner signs the listing agreement.

Once the broker has the contract, he sits back for a while and does nothing. He knows that the house won’t sell at the price listed. But he can’t say that to the owner after just getting the listing by saying the opposite.

Weeks go by and there is no action. The owner gets increasingly nervous. Eventually, he calls the broker and suggests they lower the price. The broker “reluctantly” agrees. This process continues until the house is priced to sell. Then the sale is made and the broker gets his commission.

“Nothing,” I said. “I was just curious.”

I thought about ending the conversation right then but decided to make him what I considered was a fair offer: $1.5 million. (Actually, it was a very good offer, considering the property had been worth less than half of that five years earlier.)

But $1.5 million wasn’t good enough for JP. He was positive that prices were going to keep on moving upwards. So I moved my stuff out of the cottage, still hoping I’d be able to make a deal with JP and move it back in.

Meanwhile, I had to figure out where to put everything. Julio needed access to the gardening equipment and tools, so we decided to put them in the garage. To make room, I rented a long-term storage unit for the Christmas decorations that I had been storing there.

I felt bad about the way things had gone. But since I knew JP was caught up in the delusion that real estate prices in our area would keep climbing, I didn’t actively pursue the purchase.

As the weeks went by, I continued to see evidence that the big bubble – though not yet bursting –was at least leaking. So sometime that following spring, I called JP and restated my previous offer.

“Not interested,” he said. “In fact, we’re thinking of raising the price.”

“There’s a reason you haven’t had a single offer,” I said. (I didn’t know that. I was guessing.) “The market is dropping. This is probably the best offer you’ll get.”

He hung up the phone. That pissed me off. I waited another month. More evidence of leakage. I called him back.

“Here’s the deal,” I said. “I’ll buy it today for $1.5 million. If you don’t take this offer, I’ll come back next time with an offer for $1.4 million. If you don’t take that, I’ll wait a while and offer you $1.3 million. And we’ll keep playing this game until you sell.”

He hung up again.

About six weeks later, I offered him $1.4 million. He declined. But by then, even he could see that the market was falling.

I did what I said I would do. Three more offers. Three more refusals. I bought it finally for $1.1 million, $400,000 less than he could have gotten had he accepted my first offer.

 What’s the takeaway?

 

  1. Don’t rely on brokers to tell you what your property is worth. It’s easy to figure it out on your own by going online and seeing what similar houses in the area are selling for. (Not being offered for, but actually selling for.)

 

  1. Property prices, like all prices, move up and down. But they don’t pop up and drop down like stock prices do. So when prices start dropping, it’s sensible to assume that they will keep dropping for a while. If you want or need to sell, it’s smart to price the property attractively so you can sell it as soon as possible.

 

  1. Because of the way prices move, it is considerably easier to “time” property investments than it is stocks or even bonds. You can and should consider price movements to determine buying and selling decisions. But don’t try to time tops and bottoms. That’s a loser’s game.

 

 

Recommended Reading

 

Just Kids

By Patti Smith

2010, 320 pages

A memoir of the author’s relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe – from when they met as kids in the West Village until the artist/photographer’s death in 1989.

The only thing I knew about Patti Smith before I read this book was that she is probably the least-successful singer songwriter in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. (Her bestselling song “Because theNight” made it only to 13 on the Billboard Hot 100chart, and it was co-written by Bruce Springsteen.) So I started this book with a prejudice against it, which was reinforced initially by lots of name dropping, some flowery/pretentious language, and the author’s unquestioned assumption that she was always the most interesting person in the room. I kept asking: How did this win the National Book Award, the most prestigious literary prize in the USA?

But eventually, the book won me over by the stories themselves. Not the stories that center on the author and how precocious she was/is, but those that give the reader glimpses of some of the other characters that came into her life during that period: Mapplethorpe primarily, but also Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Grace Slick, etc.

I’d recommend Just Kidsto anyone interested in having an inside view of how the Beat Generation evolved into the Woodstock Generation. In other words, I’d recommend it to anybody my age or anyone that wants to understand people my age.