Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Maine Bus to the NAR Rally to Protect the American Dream

 How many REALTORS does it take to make a change…?

The last three days have been one hectic run-on sentence, and I wanted to finish up by getting home and showering before trying to put it all together for you.

Wednesday morning many of us boarded a Peter Pan bus (see references to the Land of the Lost Boys later in this blog) in Augusta, picking up more people in Portland and one last person at the York Park and Ride, making a group of nearly 50 REALTORS from Maine, and headed south towards our Nation's Capitol and the “Rally to Protect the American Dream” festivities.

We picked up, in addition to the other REALTORS, a lovely surprise in Portland. Phenix Title and a number of other benefactors had prepared goodie bags with all sorts of treats including homemade pretzels, puzzle books, sandwiches and beverages for us all. How great was that? On our return trip several of our previous state presidents provided us with yet another selection of treats for our trip. We thank all these people very,very much.

A mere thirteen hours later found us roaming around Bethesda in the wee hours of Thursday morning with about eight of the more helpful of our group, GPS Apps in hand, urging our slightly bewildered driver to “Turn right here”, “No, left”, “Go around”, “Now you’ve passed it”, “What was that address again?”

Check-in at the lovely Hyatt Regency Bethesda was, as Cindy (MAR staff) had predicted and as we have come to expect of events orchestrated by her, simple and swift.

We all scurried, well, maybe lurched is a better word, to our rooms, some showering, some just waving a toothbrush in front of our mouths and falling into bed.

After a refreshing four hours of sleep, down we went to the lobby and loaded ourselves onto the waiting bus which had returned from somewhere in Neverland to retrieve us.

The promise of a warm, sunny day and a boxed breakfast spurring us on, we headed toward the Washington Monument and Region 1, designated for New England REALTORS on our maps.

We started seeing blue t-shirts several blocks from the site and easily found our drop-off place. State of Maine flags were passed out as we left the bus, and we were repeatedly reminded that we would not see this bus again until 8:30 Thursday evening. Little did we know.

We followed informational signs and arrows and the growing groups of large white “R”s emblazoned on all those blue shirts.

This was a very well-run event. We entered the grounds and were given signs, fans, sun-screen, backpacks, bottles of water, that boxed breakfast I mentioned, and in the backpack, that all-important blue t-shirt which we all hurriedly put on wanting to be recognized as part of the group.

By the end of the rally it was announced that the park service had estimated that there were 13,800 of us there! It was quite a sight.

The crowd was growing, there was no doubt about that. Hastily eating our breakfast (juice, Danish, and an apple), we found our area and greeted others from Maine who had come down earlier in the week for the Midyear Legislative Meetings and Hill visits and who now joined us to make a group of close to 100 Mainers!

We all waved our flags and greeted old friends and colleagues.

Music was playing with most people singing along and inspirational quotes and short recorded speeches were being projected on a huge screen.

NAR President Moe Veissi, spoke a number of times, exhorting the crowd to chant enthusiastically their feelings about supporting and sustaining the American dream of home ownership.

A number of senators and state representatives were in attendance, and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) spoke eloquently about what owning a home means and has meant in his life. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) spoke about how politics as well as real estate is all local.

Gerardo Ascencio, NAHREP President, reminded us that no child thinks “When I grow up, I want to be a tenant.”

One of the most enthusiastic speakers was Lawrence Yun, NAR’s Chief Economist, who was a real crowd pleaser with his nearly euphoric report on housing prospects for the future.

Finally, President Veissi recalled a man being interviewed, or there being an attempt at interviewing him, on 9/11 saying to the reporter, “Leave me alone. I just want to go home.”

There were more Hill visits scheduled for the afternoon by many delegations from all over the country, but first there was a boxed lunch.

Here again, everything was extremely well-organized with people getting their lunches quickly and easily. In our backpacks was a foam cushion, and many groups were seen seated on these around the grounds eating their lunches and chatting in the warm, late morning sun.

There were plenty of portable toilets, ample shuttle buses, helpful red-shirted NAR staff, and I saw only a small amount of litter, and that was mostly where trash barrels had overflowed. People were certainly trying to be tidy and respectful. Lots of good cheer and a distinctly upbeat atmosphere prevailed.

Shuttle buses would take those who were interested back to the conference hotel which was near the Woodley Park Metro station. From there people could take in some of the trade show at the conference, go to the National Zoo or meet their transportation to other sites.

There were other options, of course, as there always are in Washington, DC.  Many chose to visit some of the attractions around the Mall. The Smithsonian, The Capitol, The White House, National Gallery of Art, and some chose the popular trolley tour. One group of enterprising folks from our group, so I hear, even commandeered a rogue shuttle bus and had their own private tour of the local sites.

Ah, we REALTORS are a creative lot!

Several of us opted for the zoo, not realizing that there was a private event scheduled, and it was closing at 3 pm. We did manage to wheedle our way in by saying we just needed to check on the status of the new elephant habitat. The docent waved us by.

Someone questioned how the zoo could just kick out the public like that in favor of a private event. The response to that was that, while all the public places in DC have free admission, if some person wants to actually pay to rent the space for a private occasion, they’ll gladly take the money. Funding for these institutions being what it is these days.

Dining out for dinner Thursday was on an individual basis; so people scattered to favorite spots or to venture into some new area or dining preference.

We headed for Chinatown, having had good luck there on other occasions. My friend and I were quite hungry by that time and while a restaurant called “One Big Wong” looked inviting or, at least, curious, we opted for a terrific Japanese sushi bar/restaurant next door. It was spectacular! The sushi was exquisite, and the shrimp and scallops in garlic sauce that I had was wonderful. To say nothing of the two passion fruit martinis.

Back to the hotel we went, full of great food, warmed by the setting sun of early summer, watching fireflies, remembering the speeches of the morning and thinking of, perhaps, catching a little more sleep than last night (or was that this morning) on the bus.

We were told to be at the entrance to the hotel by 8:30, ready to board and that the bus would leave at 9pm sharp, whether we were on board or not. We were there. We had snacks. We had anything we had accumulated during the day. We had eaten dinner, we had walked many miles today. We were tired. We had said goodbye to new friends and old. What we did not have was a bus.

Eight-thirty came and went. Then eight-forty-five. Here is where the Land of the Lost Boys comes in. I firmly believe that is where the driver and bus were. Nine-fifteen and people were beginning to repeat the mantra that was heard so many times at the rally this morning in stories about the American Dream. “I want to go home. I want to go home.” At nine-forty it pulled up and off we went into the night.

We had an uneventful trip home with but one stop before York. We took a 10-15 minute break at 4:06am somewhere in CT for restrooms and tea.

I remembered a quote that I have read and always thought of when dealing with homebuyers. This is from another president: “Look well to the hearthstone; therein all hope for America lies.”—Calvin Coolidge.

We are safely home again and wish sincerely that someday, due largely to our unselfish efforts this week, anyone who wishes to will be able to say the same.

Written by REALTOR Mary Kuykendall (pictured below) ... comments are those of the author.

Monday, May 14, 2012

For Safety's Sake #10: Are you itching to get outdoors?

When I was in grade school I was intrigued, and more than a little incredulous, about a story I read in a science book postulating that at some time in the future the world would be taken over by insects.  I am beginning to see the possibilities of it.

In the past two weeks I have had to have two ticks removed at a local clinic and am currently on antibiotics which make me violently ill.

This is a situation that I would like you to avoid, if possible.

We’ve all read the articles and heard the warnings. We know about the tiny red deer tick and the bull’s eye rash. Having that knowledge still isn’t going to save us entirely from the problem.

The mild winter didn’t succeed in killing off the ticks and many other vermin that typically annoy us during the warmer months, and let me attest to the fact that you don’t have to be crawling around on your belly in the underbrush to attract the little devils.

The first one my husband generously shared with me after he had been working in the yard all day and I had remained safely inside. Note to self: “ Never thank a man for doing yard work prior to his being carefully examined for foreign creatures, showering and changing clothes.”

The second one I got while taking ten minutes to put up a sign in a yard. No high grass or leaf litter. Just me, the sign, and the crawlies.

I couldn’t believe it. I was outraged. It wasn’t fair!

So, what can we do about it? Do we just throw up our hands and surrender? I’m not ready to do that.

There are multitudes of products on the market as well as old remedies handed down for generations. I just saw a display in a grocery store today that held no fewer than 23 types of sprays, creams, mists, lotions, foggers, and bracelets for repelling the onslaught.

If you have a tried and true method, by all means, this is the year to use it.

Here’s what you must do. Put something on your shoes, socks, pant legs, arms, any part of you or your clothing that might brush up against grass, trees and leaf litter. I’ve heard it said that oak leaves are the worst for hiding the little nasties. Who knows?

One physician suggested a product that contains a certain chemical, but when my husband purchased it there was a cautionary note that it is not to be used on humans. Huh? My advice is to read all labels carefully and follow the directions. This may take a magnifying glass. I don’t know about you, but to me, print seems to be getting smaller all the time.

At any rate, protect yourself the best you can. Check yourself and/or have a buddy check you as soon as practicable. Check again before and after a shower. Wash and dry your clothes at the hottest temperatures possible for the fabric. Do not place your clothes in the hamper or even lay them on the floor after you think you may have been exposed. Put them directly into the washer, then immediately into the dryer when the cycle is finished.

Removal of the tick from your body can be tricky. If someone has a steady hand and the appropriate tool for doing so; it can be done by a lay person, but things being what they are, I’d let a professional do the removing so that it can be determined if it has been completely detached, then identified, and a proper course of treatment prescribed, if necessary. Interestingly enough, common thought among medical folks these days is that if the head of the tick cannot be removed, disgusting as it sounds, it’s better to let your body absorb it than to do unnecessary cutting to get it out.

Contrary to some provincial wisdom, you do not build up a resistance to ticks and our other BFFs--black flies and mosquitoes. These little nuisances are the ones who are building up barriers against us and to our repellents.

Carry your protection in your car at all times, along with the sunscreen and other items we’ve discussed previously.

This is serious business. Lyme disease can take a long time to develop and can be difficult to diagnose. If there is a chance that the tick might have carried the virus you can be treated early, easily and preventatively with antibiotics (even though that might not be an altogether pleasant experience) and you should be fine, but try to protect yourself beforehand, if you can.

You see--you’re itching right now. Aren’t you?

Submitted by Mary Kuykendall. Mary is a REALTOR in Bangor, Maine, and the Greater Bangor Association's 2011 REALTOR of the Year.  All opinions belong to the author.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

For Safety's Sake #9: Safety and the REALTOR Code of Ethics

One doesn’t necessarily pair ethics and safety in the same thought process, but bear with me.

We all take the required quadrennial ethics class, checking it off of our “To Do” list and assuring ourselves that not only do we not need it (although the CE credits are nice), but also that it’s a bother, because we--sterling folks that we are--would never commit an ethics violation.


Well, guess what? We do.

I’m not going to embarrass us all with a long list of the unintentional slips that we make in our attempts to put deals together. Most of us probably never realize, except in retrospect, and with a sigh of relief in not being called on it, that we’ve made a mistake. We’ve jeopardized client confidentiality. Haven’t done our due diligence, met deadlines or disclosed all we should have

Then there are the larger breaches, the ones committed intentionally.

It is a safety issue. Your career could very well depend on your knowledge of and adherence to our REALTOR Code of Ethics.

What is important enough for you to safeguard in this economic climate if not your job? These days when consumer confidence is at an all-time low? How important is it to you to get it right?

You don’t take chances when you cross a busy street. You don’t take it for granted that all the traffic is going to stop or that all drivers know that pedestrians have the right of way. You could be facing an out-of-state driver. Someone from away who’d say “We don’t do it like that where I come from”.

Be alert. Be the one who gets it right. The one whose own sense of fairness and personal ethics go safely hand in hand with and even beyond that of the National Association of REALTORS.

Don’t take a chance with your integrity.

Know your Code of Ethics. It is a beautiful document of which you should be extremely proud. Carry it with you. Give a copy of it to clients and customers.

If the Preamble doesn’t send a little shiver down your spine, you may very well be in the wrong profession.

And, for Pete’s sake, and yours as well, take the class more than once every four years. Four years may be too long to wait.

Submitted by Mary Kuykendall. Mary is a REALTOR in Bangor, Maine, and the Greater Bangor Association's 2011 REALTOR of the Year.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

For Safety's Sake #8: The Times, they are "A'Chain-Gin"

Of all the resolutions you’ve made in the last several weeks, I hope that taking stock of and rehabbing your personal safety equipment was among them.

You’re certainly correct in mentioning this year’s deviation from our usual Maine winter weather, but, hey, it’s only late January, folks. There’s bound to be some nastiness waiting in the wings, and I’m not just talking about the wings on that plow that took out your mailbox four times last winter.

I’m not going to do product reviews, as such, but do want to talk about some things that are out there that will make your life a little easier, and, of course, safer.

Winter treads on your car, well, that pretty much goes without saying. If you don’t have all-wheel drive, and even if you do, you might want to think back to the days when we all wrestled with tire chains. Not a pleasant memory, is it?

Not only have the times changed, the chains have changed too. If you’ve followed that last sentence, let’s continue.

First of all, remember that tire chains are intended for use on ice and snow only, not on dry pavement.

There are a variety of tire chain options. Be sure you choose those that are appropriate for both your vehicle and the conditions you’ll be facing.

If you need traction for a very short distance just to get out of a tight spot in a parking lot or driveway, or over a limited patch of snow or ice, you might consider what are called “emergency chains”. They are easily installed (be sure to follow instructions carefully) and inexpensive. Probably less than $20. Note that you must not exceed 5 mph when using these emergency chains.

There are several other types of tire chains on the market today.

Because of relatively low clearance on many cars, there is not much room in the wheel wells for thick chains. Improper size can cause damage to brake lines and impair steering.

While online prices may seem attractive, it’s probably best to stick with a local dealer who can give you advice and actually see your vehicle.

Keep in mind that the highway department’s salt will cause corrosion. As soon as possible after removing the chains, wash off the salty brine, dry them thoroughly, then spray on a drying agent such as WD-40, and store them in a bag or the case they came in, preferably not plastic. This will protect them and keep other items in your vehicle safe.

Here’s what we’ve got:

Conventional link chains. Least expensive. Most difficult to install. Very effective. Must lay the chains out on the ground and drive over them, then “hug the tire” and reach around to the back to fasten them. Messy and not much fun. Cost for these is about $30-50 a pair. Have a tarp and gloves ready for this chore.

Diamond-pattern link chains. These are a bit easier to install, offer the greatest traction, but are fairly pricey at around $75-150 a pair.

Steel cable. Not link chains. Thinner and easier yet to install. Dealers claim they do not offer as much traction as the others. Cost is $30-75 a pair.

It’s your choice.

Keep some tube sand or kitty litter in your car for weight and traction and for chucking a few scoopfuls under those tires when you need extra help.

Windshield washer fluid should be checked regularly and topped off, if needed. These sloppy, slushy, salty, semi-frozen roads use up a lot of it. Don’t forget to check your headlights and taillights frequently and clean them off to increase your visibility. If you don’t have anything else on hand to do it with, grab a handful of snow. It will do in a pinch.

Pull those worn wiper blades off and replace them, and don’t forget to tip them out while you’re inside if winter precipitation is expected. It’s easier and faster to clean a windshield that doesn’t have wipers frozen to it.

Once you’ve gotten where you’re going, navigating over ice or snow to get to the house is your next concern.

You probably carry some sort of traction devices for your feet other than boots. You do have boots in the car, don’t you?

Ranging in price from around $4 to $50, what you fasten onto your shoes or boots can have many names and configurations. There are ice cleats and other products made under names such as Spike & Coil, Due North, Stabilicers, Yaktrax, and Get-a-Grip.

These can save you time and the unpleasant repercussions of a nasty fall. If you are feeling particularly generous, carry some extra ones for your clients.

A word of caution: Remember to remove them when you get inside. Some, not all, of them declare themselves to be safe for wearing inside, saying they won’t damage floors. Don’t do it. Take them off. Roll them up, stick them in your pocket or set them by the door, but TAKE THEM OFF. It’s not the floors I’m worried about so much. Just last week I was in the waiting room in a local hospital when a woman came in for an outpatient procedure, stepped off the doormat onto the tile floor by the reception desk and did a split Cathy Rigby would have envied. I know I’ve dated myself with that reference, but, suffice it to say, it was painful to watch and, I’m sure, much more painful to endure. That colonoscopy suddenly became the least of her concerns.

While your body heat creates a melted cushion for the Yaktrax (or whichever brand of these you use) to grab onto, there is no such effect once you’re inside and on a tile or wood floor.

If you routinely show foreclosed or unplowed properties and find yourself faced with an expanse of snow and ice to traverse between you and the door you’d better be prepared with some cross country skis, snowshoes, or, at the very least, some ski poles.

You also don’t know what’s under that snow; so be extra careful and have something, (if nothing else, a long-handled ice scraper) to probe the depths for hazards before you step.

Of course, you carry a snow shovel in your vehicle.

For good measure, throw some of those hand and foot warmers in your toolbox, along with extra gloves and socks, and, of course, don’t forget the candy canes!

Stay warm and safe.

Submitted by Mary Kuykendall. Mary is a REALTOR in Bangor and the Greater Bangor Association's 2011 REALTOR of the Year. (Credit: Picture of Tidy Cats cat litter)