What it Means to Win

What it Means to Win

We live in an extremely competitive society.  It has been said that second place is “the first loser.”  I beg to differ.  Let me tell you a story about a woman who finished last in a race with over 3000 walkers and runners, and I dare you to tell me she is not a winner.

On March 6th this woman decided that she had enough of being overweight, tired, with back problems so severe she could not walk too far without being in pain.  On Thanksgiving Day, this same woman, having lost 100 pounds in a little more than 7 months, walked in the 5K Tallahassee Turkey Trot to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank and two women’s abuse shelters in Tallahassee.  She is the kind to raise money and awareness for needed causes, so when she asked if I wanted to join her, I said yes, that would be fun.  “You sure YOU want to do it?”  I asked.  But she was determined that she would do the entire 3.1 miles, in addition to the almost one mile to and one mile from the parking lot for the race.  There were a lot of people there warming up on this cool, wet and chilly morning.  Some were serious runners, some joggers, some walkers, and some were children only 4 or 5 years old, who after they got tired, got carried by their parents or wheeled in strollers.  So they finished ahead of the lady who finished last.  Which is okay, because those parents were teaching their children the value of family time together and finishing a race no matter how long it takes, and hopefully, the value of exercise, which can not only make you stronger, but give you the desire to get into even better shape.

The last place finisher had in the past several months not only lost all that weight, but gave up the need for all medications, was no longer borderline Type 2 diabetic, and the back pain went away.  She felt well enough to take a little 3+ mile walk over hills and dales.  So I went along with her to make sure we could track her progress.  The volunteers were starting to pack up the medals, the bananas and water, and even the timing mechanism at the finish line.  But the woman finished the race, and the tears of joy she shed when she crossed the finish line for all the determination and hard work and discipline she endured this year made it all worth while.  That woman is my wife–Janet Balanoff.  She has been a great wife, then Mom and now Grandma…a leader in the community, an award winning administrator at the University of Central Florida and now associate vice president at Seminole State College.  She has paved the way for so many people to reach their goals.  She does it without fanfare, self-serving propaganda, or ego.  In a time when if you aren’t self-promoting, you are not seen to be trying, she serves as a quiet inspiration for so many.  But I hope that now a few more of you will see the hero in this woman…a woman strong enough to take on seemingly insurmountable odds to do something just for herself.

And oh, by the way, the next time the job gets a little tough for you, or you give up on your diet, or your exercise, or hopes for a new job or a better education or way of life…I want you to stop for a moment, and look at the inspiration that Janet Balanoff provides to us all.  And if nothing else, maybe you will take a kinder look on those who finish last, and realize the joy and fulfillment and peace that comes with finishing…at all!  I am so grateful to have the chance to spend my life with this great woman, but let her inspire you to fulfill your unrealized dreams.  On this Thanksgiving weekend 2017, I wish you the courage to follow her inspiration and your own.  Peace.


Customer Service in America–Take 20

I attended an event on Friday at the Loew’s Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Studios in Orlando.  I parked for a few hours, and when I left, I entered my credit card for the parking lot, and when I pulled the receipt, I was very surprised to find I had been charged $47.92.  The equivalent of finding you are paying $5.70 a gallon for gas, I called the next business day to talk with the staff there, and they directed me to a very nice young man in parking who apologized for the mistake but said he would be happy to correct if I gave him my credit card number so they could match it up and issue the proper refund of $47.92.

Imagine my surprise when I gave it a day, checked on my credit card account, only to find they had indeed charged me $6.39 (the correct amount) but still no refund for the $47.92.

So I called again, and after several minutes of waiting on hold while they told me about the fabulous vacation that would await me at any of the Loew’s resorts.  Finally because my business means so much to them, a manager got on the phone and assured me that I would be receiving the credit but the system that charges is not the same one that credits, so expect to see the erroneous charge credited back to my account in a few days.  “Could you send me something in writing to that effect?”  “No, but expect that charge to be credited back soon, and sorry for your inconvenience.”

Let me tell you something, Loew’s Pacific, that 7 minute ad for all your resorts just started making me madder and madder because it is clear that your “systems” that take money erroneously immediately, and return it grudgingly and slowly, is not appreciated.  I am pretty sure Loew’s is not the only company that has this oh-so-slow refund policy, but am appalled that they charge so quickly, but refund….very….slowly.  I will now be checking daily…and posting to update all of you when they do make it right.  But this certainly leaves a bad taste in my mouth about their “system” and their company.

This as opposed to the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel.  We stayed there for a night during the Florida Realtors convention and got extraordinary service, dining, everyone went out of their way to make our stay enjoyable.  My wife was so impressed she sent a letter praising one chef in particular who went out of her way to have a dining experience that was A+.  She did not expect anything in return, but a few days later, Harris Rosen himself sent a personal letter of thanks to appreciate the comments and assure her that was exactly the kind of experience they want to create each and every day.

Wow!  The contrast between extraordinary and inexcusable is pretty vast.  Two hotels…same city…one is an A+ experience we will be repeating, and one, well, let’s just say if there was a rating lower than F, Loew’s would have “earned” it.

Little things do make a difference, and I am convinced that the way of judging between companies providing service is not so difficult because excellence is a way of life and training for some…and for many, they apparently do not have any reason to WANT to do better, because they are furiously buying each other up in the effort to create a monopoly.

As always, your thoughts are encouraged.

Hurricanes Bring Out Best…and Worst

Thankfully most of you are returning more to normal as the new week dawns after the howling winds and drenching downpours of Irma throughout the state of Florida.  We need only to be reminded of the terrible damage and loss of life in the struggling Caribbean islands, beautiful tropical oases levelled by Category 4 and 5 storms.  Here in Central Florida, we have the best of human instincts and answered prayers–donating blood, neighbors lending a hand in chopping up fallen trees, providing generators, and generally making sure life could be restored as quickly as possible.  One of our associates was out there last Friday doing just that, trying to help a client, after having given blood, and started feeling dehydrated and woozy, and had to get medical assistance.  While others would applaud her selflessness and try to get her help, one young woman videotaped the episode, laughing, and taping as our associate was rushed to the hospital.  I am not aware of any local law that would prevent such behavior, which I believe not only borders on sociopathic, but perhaps rams through that border.  She actually had the nerve to curse her and criticize instead of helping.  But she made sure she had the video.

I would call on each of you to bring an attitude of help to a struggling piece of the world right now.  Again, 95% of you are the kind of individuals who help in times of struggle, and even in normal times.  We cannot always turn around the lives of those who need our help.  But we most certainly should find a soft spot in our hearts to offer the kinds of helping hands that will heal and assist.   I would call for stronger laws to frankly punish those who laugh at those in trouble and seek to videotape times of disaster rather than lend a hand.   Helpers–you are gratefully acknowledged and thanked from the bottom of my heart.  Those who seek to humiliate and dishonor–my words will never be enough to condemn what you do.  But I will continue to point out the good and the heinous in the hopes that we all lean toward good with a strong faith that it will prevail.  Your comments, as always, are welcomed.

Why Can’t We Get Along in America?

I shed a tear today for our nation.  And not because we did not get a full view here in stormy Florida  of yesterday’s solar eclipse.  Political comments are flying around coffee shops, workplaces, organizational meetings, parties, churches, basically everywhere people meet.  And when you compound that with tweets, Facebook posts and emails…well…it can get pretty ugly.    We have seen a lot of this on all sides. We are going through turbulent times in so many ways.  I always refer to myself as a radical moderate. I vote for Republicans, I vote for Democrats, I support causes like our church, the education of our children and now grandchildren with the best methods and tools possible, support peace in our world, support the business community of which I am a part.  Thus, I have many constituencies.  Unfortunately, we have gotten to the point where in the effort to follow our First Amendment, we feel empowered to say whatever we want to whoever we want.  I am not worried about the radical right or the radical left, for they are in the minority.   It is the people who sit silently until they leave the church, their job, their community and potentially go crazy pulling away from various groups where they no longer feel welcome. 

I also hear some of our most vocal citizens say “if they can’t take it, I guess they need to leave.”  And others who believe their right to be wrong is so ingrained in the Constitution that they frankly do not care what others think. I guess you could say political correctness is not saying what we think other people would appreciate us saying, but instead to think before we speak as to how an insensitive statement could harm someone else’s sense of well being, which is already being threatened by a horrible job, an unhappy home life, illness, or mental instability.

It is not about being politically correct, because there is no such thing—someone will take offense to almost anything we say.  But it is about welcoming the differences around us instead of condemning those who do not think like we think…and walking away when someone says something they do not agree with.  I will continue to pray for all who join us at my church, Epiphany Lutheran in Oviedo, and other places of worship around our great nation.  I will continue to pray for those who have not found God (and that appears to be the gentleman now inhabiting the White House, who appears to worship himself more than his Creator)  and that those searchers who cannot find peace in a troubled world find a spiritual place to call home, and work for peace, justice, and the pursuit of what our Founding Fathers called for–“the pursuit of happiness.”  Think about that for a moment.  We are GUARANTEED the right to worship, assemble, speak, and pursue happiness.  Readers, I thank you for your leadership towards understanding.  God bless you, God bless our churches, and God bless our country with the heart to serve without condemnation.  

One Year Later

On anniversaries of great events and tragic ones, it is always interesting to think back and remember what was happening.  365 days ago, I was at church when I saw one of our members, an executive in the Orlando United Way, leave in a hurry to attend to pressing matters because something was happening near downtown that would shake the very foundations of who we are.

It was only later that morning as the news reports started rolling in that “several people” and then more than a dozen…and finally 49 of our fellow residents were gunned down in cold blood at the Pulse nightclub, more than 50 wounded, some severely enough to require long term hospitalization.  Yes, the worst mass murder in our nation’s history right here in sunny Orlando, home of Mickey Mouse,  Fantasyland, dancing dolphins, and Harry Potter.

Today, our church, Epiphany Lutheran, joined with churches all over the world in tolling our bells 49 times in recognition of all those who perished.  The outpouring of love from the community told the world a lot about who we are as a community.  We pulled together in the face of hatred and tragedy and printed shirts with a simple message of love:  #OrlandoStrong.  There were tributes, memorials, people lined up to donate blood to the wounded who would need it.  The killing had multiple layers of hatred…prompted by hatred of LGBT residents, many of whom had gathered at Pulse to dance, listen to music and forget some of the taunts, bullying, and ostracism over the years.  Just to enjoy for a moment in time…only to be gunned down in a hail of hatred.  The fact that the gunman was earlier to have pledged his allegiance to followers of radical Islam made the crime even worse, because it was hard to separate the contempt of all Americans from the contempt of LGBT Americans and Hispanics, many of whom gathered for Latin night at the club.  “Layered hatred” is what I call it.

Yet over the past year, our community has labored to restore love and reject hatred. Our church, for 25 years a bastion of largely conservative Lutheran theology, has taken up and passed a message of being Reconciled in Christ.  That means ALL are welcome who believe in Christ.  Whether white, Latino, black, lesbian, gay, transgender, Asian, wealthy or poor, baby Christian or long time follower.  ALL who believe in forgiveness, and the redeeming power of Christ to blunt all hatred, light the candle of  God’s love for us all.  We are all His children, and no matter your background, color or political inclination, you are welcome to worship with us, and be treated with the same kind of love and concern and comfort that you deserve as such a child.  RIC churches are not that common, but I am pleased to be part of such a congregation.

Today, I also attended a wonderful ceremony at Seminole State College celebrating the life of young Luis Vielma, a student who died at Pulse last year.  “Not forgotten,” was the message.  For lives of promise and vigor and love to be cut short by an angry madman is becoming all too common in our society.  But to be remembered is all any of us can do.  And when memorial flowers fade, candles burn out, and memories themselves fade, we must remind ourselves of what needs to be done to overcome hate and transform our lives.

Today, I also spoke with a woman entering our profession, and when I mentioned I was headed to the memorial, she said she had a friend who was injured at Pulse, remembering the moment the gunman shot multiple times into the woman he killed immediately at his side, and survived a gunshot wound to the leg that temporarily paralyzed him.  Imagine the trauma of that moment.

The same God of all creation worshipped since the beginning of time teaches that love overcomes hatred…that peace is to be sought even in the midst of war…and that seeking to understand is much more important than being understood.  So, as we wrap up one year following Pulse, my advice to all is this:  Orlando is a great home, a largely peaceful place to raise a family, to work, play, and go to school.  We have things to work on, and one of them is to accept our neighbors, especially the ones who do not look like us, talk like us, or think like us…with a spirit of love and seeking to understand free of condemnation and judgment.  Seek to understand, my friends.  Seek to accept.  Seek to love.  You will sometimes be disappointed, as the folks who lost their lives in the Pulse tragedy were.  But through seeking to accept, understand and love comes great power, wisdom and truth.   The truth will indeed make you free.


Hilarious–Have you ever had this happen?

Customer service in America is at such a low level now that many companies do not even know who their customers are!  I was called today by a “quality assurance expert” at a company I already use.  His question–why did I leave them about a year ago?”

But the truth is…I SIGNED UP  a year ago and have been with them ever since.  So when I told him that, there was a pause, then…”ah, er, well, thank you for your patronage…we appreciate it!”

Apparently they appreciate it well enough to have quality control call to find out why I am no longer with them.  Kind of like when you are put on hold and after a few seconds of music, the controlled voice comes on to say “Thank you for calling (name of business).  We appreciate your business, and will be with you shortly.”  Hey, company at large…usually very large…if you cared enough to serve me, you would hire someone to answer my calls during regular business hours instead of putting me on hold for 1-3 minutes!!!!!

Does anyone else feel like this?  If so, please indicate below.  As I am ALWAYS glad to hear your comments and feedback.


How’s the Real Estate Market in Orlando?

The month of November provided some interesting trends.  The most telling is that the active market shrunk to 9270 homes.  That is a small city.  But with 2.2 million people living in Metro Orlando, that is the smallest number of homes for sale since September 2013.  Curiously, there were 2444 closings that month, and 2481 last month, and 68 average days on market then vs. 66 days now.  Almost exactly the same market today as the market was in Sept. 2013.

What does this mean?  First, it means that there is currently a 3.4 month supply of available housing.  That might seem like quite a bit, but 6 months is considered a normal, balanced inventory, and 3.4 is a strong seller market.

Home prices have gone up 7% over last year at this time, and that is a healthy increase.  But the eyeball test would tell you that there are way more buyers out there than motivated sellers.  Well priced homes are moving very fast, but we are seeing more and more staying on the market for a long time. The reasons are plenty, but the #1 reason is pure seller greed.  Think about it, if prices have risen 30-40% in the past 4 years, and a seller wants to get more than anyone has ever paid for a house in a particularly subdivision, if you do not price the way they want, they might just move on to another agent who will price it the way they want.

Doesn’t make it right, and it makes it very frustrating to be that honest soul trying to guide someone to the correct pricing strategy when you “lose the listing” and you do not have someone else begging for you to list their home at the right price.

This causes overall pricing to go up, even when it cannot be justified.  I went on a listing appointment last night in a neighborhood where the average actives were asking $210.77/square foot; the pendings were listed at $167.94/square foot; and the solds were actually selling for $156.38/square foot.  That means if the house there is 1500 square feet, the homes are being listed at $316,155 and selling for $234,570.  Quite a discrepancy, right?

So, as a 5 star agent…and as a client willing to do the right thing to sell…what do you do to price and sell?

It means that sometimes we have to try it to see what is going to happen, because I have rarely felt so stymied in putting a realistic price tag on anything.  You can even suggest an appraisal, but what happens if you get an optimistic appraiser or the seller does not take that appraiser’s advice. Still stuck in place during what everyone is calling a rapidly appreciating market.

So an attitude of we will try it and see what happens has overtaken the market…and with good reason.  Because the above scenario is not unusual, and it will not change until market correction happens.  With more people wanting to purchase homes and fewer people selling, the market should get even hotter.  So prepare for the occasional scalding as the market moves even faster than what we consider normal or prudent.

Happy selling, and if I can assist you in any way, I am never too busy for any of your referrals!