It may seem out of left field, but when NAR regional vice president Vince Malta isn’t selling homes in San Francisco, he’s collecting baseball bats hit by legendary players like Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. The unlikely combination is a result of deep-rooted family traditions; Malta is a third generation REALTOR® who has been in the business for 35 years, and joins his father and grandfather before him as a passionate fan of the game.
“I’ve always loved baseball since I was a child,” said Malta, CEO at Malta & Co., Inc. in San Francisco. “I got into bat collecting because I thought it was very interesting to collect a piece of history.”
And that’s where this hobby could have ended, with a few prized bats and the satisfaction of holding baseball history in his hands, if not for Malta’s real estate mind working overtime to analyze the way the bats were being sold.
“I started doing some research and it seemed like there were a couple of experts who knew about baseball bats but were also selling them,” he said. “So they wound up authenticating the very bats they were selling. In real estate, we call that a ‘conflict of interest.’”
Worse still, some of the bats for sale weren’t exactly priceless memorabilia worthy of glass display. But it would take years of conducting research and scouring decades-old factory records before Malta could decipher the legitimate from the lies.
“I bought a game-used Jackie Robinson-autographed bat and thought, ‘wow that’s really cool,’” Malta recalls. This cool factor quickly thawed when he returned to the bat years later, armed with extensive knowledge about its production and make. He analyzed the model, concluding the bat was rendered in 1973; a fine year for the Oakland Atheltics to defeat the New York Mets in a seven-game World Series thriller, but for Jackie Robinson—who stopped playing baseball in 1956 and passed away in 1972—using that bat would have been, well, impossible.
“People were telling you things and giving you stories about the bats that just weren’t accurate,” Malta said. “I think the bat needs to speak for itself.”
It’s a dictum that can resonate in real estate as well as baseball—an agent can stage a house with all the shiny bells and whistles, even provide anecdotes about how much fun the home owner’s children had playing in the spacious backyard, but in the end, the property must speak to the buyer.
However, it still helps to have those words interpreted by someone in the know.
“There will always be a person out there who will sell you something,” Malta said. “You need a facilitator with knowledge guiding you through the process.”
To Malta, this is why authenticating bats can’t be an act of whimsy; it must be a serious practice—as complex as a real estate transaction—determined by things like labeling, wood type, and the hitting characteristics of the player who purportedly used the bat at that time.
Even the National Baseball Hall of Fame staff keeps extra copies of Malta’s book, “A Complete Reference Guide Louisville Slugger Professional Player Bats,” on hand. The publication is widely acknowledged as the most comprehensive manual for collectors of Hall of Fame players’ bats. The Guide was a labor of love for Malta, who worked in conjunction with Jack Hillerich, grandson of John A. “Bud” Hillerich—maker of the first player-customized baseball bat—to gain access to Louisville Slugger factory records.
Since its release in 2007, the book has established Malta as one of the foremost authorities on bat collecting. More than just a baseball textbook, it weaves the history of the sport throughout its pages, in a narrative enriched by Malta’s own experiences meeting the greats of the game. “Many of the players are so warm and personable,” Malta said, listing Ernie Banks and Brooks Robinson among those he enjoyed speaking with.
But some of his most frame-worthy baseball encounters occurred on the job. At an NAR meeting in 2005, while sitting with his wife, 13-year-old son, and 1984 Hall of Fame inductee Harmon Killebrew, (an invited guest at the event), Malta’s wife casually mentioned to the right-hander that her son was having a tough time at the plate. Immediately, Killebrew stood the struggling young player up and began to give him a batting lesson. “It’s all in the hips,” he instructed, as REALTORS®—and the Maltas—watched in awe.
“We still have the picture of Harmon Killebrew giving my son tips,” Malta said. “I love that players are so open and such great ambassadors of the game.”
As an ambassador of homes, it’s easy for Malta to see the connection between his favorite sport and the real estate profession. “We provide a valuable service,” he said. “People can consider what we do like baseball bat authenticating: We make sure they get what they expect.”
In an empty real estate office on Boylston Street, dozens of homemade calzones sit uneaten, and slices of pizza — now spoiled — lay near half-empty juice boxes and soda cans scattered across the floor. This may not be the most iconic image to come out of the Boston Marathon bombings, but it’s a still-life snapshot of the chaos that erupted from a celebration so profoundly American, it has its roots in the Revolutionary War.
Every year on Patriot’s Day, the Charlesgate Realty Group holds an “open house” party for friends, family, and clients to commemorate the holiday and watch the marathon runners as they charge toward the finish line. Every year they gather to observe the triumphant athletes; every year they await those famous calzones.
But this was not every year.
“In the blink of an eye, we had to clear the whole party out,” says P.T. Vineburgh, founding partner of Charlesgate. Vineburgh felt a first then second explosion — the second less than half a block away — and saw a panicked crowd fleeing the street.
Immediately, he knew something wasn’t right. “With two explosions, I thought it was way too coincidental for it to be gas lines,” Vineburgh says. “I told everyone to leave through the back door.”
When the group was outside, all accounted for and safe, Vineburgh noted how brightly the sun was shining, a strange moment of darkness meeting light. “It was pushing 60 degrees and really our first taste of spring,” he says. “And that’s exactly how it should have been; this was supposed to be the quintessential Boston family day.”
Though he’s not even sure when he’ll regain access to his office — located inside the restricted crime scene — Vineburgh is certain the city will revive itself with full vigor, and soon.
“The year the Bruins won the Stanley Cup, there were a million people at the parade,” he says. “You’ll see that times 10 because this isn’t sports; this is real life.”
Other local REALTORS® agree, and association leadership is sending a message of support and strength to the down —but by no means out — community. “We Bostonians, we’re resilient, and I have no doubt we’ll get back out there and do our thing,” says Joe Schutt, YPN chair of the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®, adding that the concern and help pouring in from across the country has been overwhelming. In an instant, hundred-year-old baseball rivalries vanished, much like a well-hit ball sailing over the Green Monster’s 37-foot wall at Fenway Park.
“When something happens on American soil, our country pulls together,” says Schutt, also broker/owner of Unit Realty Group in Back Bay, Mass. “We may have these rivalries, but in the end, we’re really one America.”
The solidarity is good news for the REALTORS® of Massachusetts, especially with at least one member of MAR seriously wounded, and others still shaken up from the events of the day.
“I thought something was falling from the sky,” says Katie Beth Clark, a REALTOR® in Brookline, Mass., who was standing near the finish line when the bombs went off. “I heard the noise and saw people hitting the ground; I just started bawling.”
And to all those affected in the real estate community, they should know they aren’t alone.
“We’re here to stand behind anyone and everyone,” Schutt says. “We’re prepared to do everything we can.”
But this benevolence and loyalty is nothing new, in fact, it’s symptomatic of the job. “The REALTOR® family is strong,” says Marilyn Jarvis, President of the Certified Residential Specialists’ Massachusetts Chapter. “We may be fierce competitors when sitting across the table from one another, but if something comes up, we rally together like nothing else.”
Jarvis, whose partner of 15 years is an amputee due to health-related reasons, has already set up a fund for those wishing to donate to the bombing victims. It’s a deeply personal effort coming from someone who understands the dire consequences of losing a limb.
“I truly know what some of these people have ahead of them,” Jarvis says. “From the smallest to the biggest of details, their lives will be different, but we’re going to be there to give them our help.”
With calls coming in from around the nation, Jarvis is confident the fledgling program will become a success; and a much needed monetary source for those unaware of the challenges ahead. “You can’t go out to dinner the same way again,” she says. “How do you drive a car? Who will walk your dog? It’s the little, everyday things that will affect them most.”
For these victims — and a city — in need of mending, it seems the restoration has already begun. “Boston is full of strong, prideful people,” Vineburgh says, recalling how “eerily quiet” the town was the night of the bombings. Now as routine, rejuvenation, and the revelry characteristic of Boston returns, residents like Vineburgh look to brighter days ahead. His office may be inaccessible and full of cold calzones, but he’s already planning on another marathon-watching party next year, “without a doubt!”
If there was one major takeaway from the National Crime Prevention Council’s 2013 Mortgage Fraud Virtual Conference, it was this: The mortgage market, while no longer a wicked stepchild of the housing crisis, must still be carefully monitored. Though its tantrum-throwing days may be over, the $1.1 trillion government loan industry has the potential to cause serious economic damage should fraudulent mortgage activity persist unchecked.
“What is old is new again,” says Michael Stolworthy, Director of Fraud Prevention for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “We’re starting to see some disturbing trends. The same old type of mortgage cases are coming up.”
False statements on loan applications, inflated appraisals, and loan modification schemes are just some of the ways fraud is reappearing in the mortgage market. And with government loans on the rise—the number of mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration has nearly doubled since 2006—the potential for mortgage fraud increases, especially among applicants in shaky financial condition.
“Back during the mortgage boom, people who had taken out second and third mortgages were living the champagne lifestyle on a beer budget,” says Robert Simken, a former real estate practitioner turned police officer in Eustis, Fla. “Now, those same people are living in homes that are underwater and willing to do just about anything to get out of their bind.”
Problems arise when that “anything” includes turning to loan counselors, lenders, and alleged real estate professionals who make promises they never plan to keep. “If an opportunity comes along that seems too good to be true and the little hairs on your neck stick up and say ‘danger,’ don’t just ignore them,” Simken warns.
Through public outreach campaigns and educational seminars, organizations like the National Crime Prevention Council stress the importance of using an accredited real estate professional when contemplating any property transaction. “Half the people haven’t checked the qualifications of the individual helping them buy a home,” says Ann Harkins, CEO and President of NCPC.
Simkens agrees that home owners should seek advice from a noted professional. “You don’t go to the butcher for brain surgery and you don’t go to a brain surgeon for chopped meat,” he says. “It’s important to find an expert and not just someone who shows up and can recite the jargon.” Continue reading »
The scenario happened like a perfectly-scripted movie: a Keller Williams team based in Plantation, Fla. decides to play their odds at the lottery. For just $20 each, the 11 co-workers could have the chance to win a $338 million Powerball jackpot. Through a series of group text messages and e-mails, the team organized their efforts and collected $240—or 120 tickets—for the March 22nd Powerball. Everyone at Keller Williams Partner Realty participated, except for Jennifer Maldonado, the newest member of the team. “I just started work,” the administrative assistant told team leader Laurie Finkelstein Reader. “I think I can spend $20 on something else.”
Finkelstein Reader warned Maldonado about the consequences of her choice. “Jen, if you don’t pay we’re going to win,” she said, staring her co-worker straight in the eyes. “Don’t worry,” Jen answered with a slight laugh. “I’ll take the fall for you.” (Yes, we all know where this one is going…)
Cut to Saturday when the Powerball numbers were announced. Finkelstein Reader got back on the group text that night—her husband was too tired to stay up for the results—and inquired about whether or not anyone had checked the winning numbers. “We only got five out of six,” one co-worker replied with the nonchalance of someone unaware that the team had just won $1 million.
They celebrated until dawn—even Finkelstein Reader’s husband jumped out of bed screaming, “I’m not tired anymore!”—and chatted for hours about their good fortune, which would amount to $83,333.33 per person, after taxes. “We all got on the phone and it was just ten of us completely freaking out,” Finkelstein Reader says.
But festivities quickly came to a halt the next morning when the team realized that Maldonado hadn’t participated in the pool. Maldonado, who had been carefully monitoring her spending, was happy for the team but visibly shaken by the news.
“The next thing I did was what would come naturally to anyone on my team: I asked everyone what they thought about including Jen in the earnings,” Finkelstein Reader says. “Of course, they were all on board.”
After receiving unanimous consent, Finkelstein Reader handed over what she describes as “a fat stack of cash” to Maldonado, who was brought to tears by the thoughtful gesture.
And that may have been the end of this story, if not for one little Facebook post about the altruistic act that went viral faster than you can say, “cats singing on YouTube.” Within hours, word spread far and wide about the jackpot-winning team and their decision to include the ill-fated admin. Soon national news programs like Dateline, Inside Edition, The Today Show, and more all clamored for a chance to cover the philanthropic feat.
Even Hollywood has been calling, though the team isn’t willing to answer quite yet, that is unless the right offer comes along. “I would go to California if Ellen asked,” Finkelstein Reader admits. “I tell everybody I just want to dance with her!”
Fame and foxtrots aside, Finkelstein Reader says the money has only cemented the already cooperative atmosphere synonymous with a real estate team. “Before this happened, we were every bit the way you see us now,” she says. “The only thing different is that we won a million dollars.”
It’s one of those days, the kind when the sky is just a stretch of turquoise blue and a smattering of cotton-ball clouds. To the right, tall wisps of wheat and grass, to the left, towering hills shaded purple and green, cut in places by thin, glistening streams…
No, this isn’t a description of the backdrop for a soon-to-be released Western film. It’s the scene Greg Fay, founder of Fay Ranches brokerage, sees all the time while showing premium ranching and sporting properties to his clients. And with price tags ranging from $1 million to $100 million, Fay likens the complex process of taking a ranch from due diligence to the closing table as nothing short of real estate combat. But if this is a battle, Fay — whose gross sales for Fay Ranches topped $180 million last year — may have already won the fight.
“It’s not an investment prone to the vagaries of human whimsy like the SEC having a bad day and the stocks responding to it,” Fay says about the motivation behind the increasingly popular ranch ownership trend. In fact, for Fay’s clients — many of whom he describes as among the most successful businessmen in the world — ranch real estate is more viable an option than dealing with the fickleness of today’s stock market. “When it comes to ranches, my clients are very bullish,” he says, perhaps with pun intended.
But beyond the financial benefits, there’s a recreational and familial aspect to ranch ownership too. “You can just watch clients’ shoulders drop as they get to the ranch,” Fay says. “Then they get to see their kids or grandkids running around, skipping stones in the pond or riding 4-wheelers or a horse.” For Fay’s clientele, it’s about giving their children these “non-Nintendo moments” — like observing a bull moose ramble in an open field or listening to an elk bugle on a quiet night. “You can’t get those same experiences from stocks,” he says. “All you get from stocks is heartburn.”
However, convincing potential buyers that ranch ownership is an investment worth making still takes work — and a little bit of creative marketing. “Catching a big fish can be one of the strongest sales tactics we have,” Fay says, adding that many times, a “showing” consists of fly fishing, hiking, or even floating clients down the river on drift boats so they can get a better sense of the expansive landscape as they leisurely cruise on the water.
One of Fay’s favorite moments happened with two of his longtime clients: They were interested in purchasing a property but weren’t quite convinced. At dusk, Fay brought them to a particularly beautiful vista boasting panoramic views of the hilly, lush terrain. As the sun set between the mountains, Fay arranged a twilight happy hour, complete with folding chairs and margaritas for all. “My client’s wife was hurting a little the next morning,” he says, “but they bought the ranch!”
REALTORS® who are interested in specializing in ranch and land sales can learn more about becoming an Accredited Land Consultant at REALTORS® Land Institute.
Most people are familiar with Easter Seals—a non-profit organization that provides assistance to disabled individuals and their families—but not everyone may be aware of the storied history behind the charity, or its connection to real estate.
The origin of Easter Seals dates back to 1907, when the son of Ohio businessman Edgar Allen was killed in a tragic streetcar accident. Allen knew that with the right medical care his son could’ve been saved, and so he sold his business to begin fundraising for a new children’s hospital in town. Through his involvement with this hospital, Allen came to learn how stigmatized disabled children were—kept away the public and denied adequate care—and was inspired to start the National Society for Crippled Children, or what would later become Easter Seals.
Today, Easter Seals is the leading non-profit provider of services for individuals with a variety of special needs, and looks to all industries for financial support. In the real-estate realm, Century 21 has been a longtime sponsor, raising a total of $106 million over its 34-year involvement with the organization.
“It’s been a tremendous venture,” says John Kersten, head of fundraising for Century 21 Town & Country in Utica, Mich. Kersten’s brokerage was this year’s top Century 21 Easter Seals fundraiser, bringing in $847,000 for the cause. Kersten began fundraising about 15 years ago, and has since built up his efforts to include prizes like a $50,000 cash giveaway plus a Corvette Coupe. With a one in 5,000 chance of winning—and at the cost of only $50 a ticket—the charity raffles have become tremendously popular throughout the Metro Detroit area.
Other Century 21 brokerages across the nation organized activities as varied as golf outings and casino nights to beer and barbeque cook offs or charity walks. Through these and other means, the company collected $2 million for Easter Seals in 2012.
“We’re just glad to be able to raise money for a charity that reaches out to the community with their service and has the ability to help such a cross section of people lead more independent lives,” Kersten says.
And as beneficial as charitable giving is for the community, it’s just as valuable for boosting office morale and colleague camaraderie, says Patsy Molloy, director of marketing and corporate relations at Easter Seals. “Charity fundraising is great for real estate businesses who want their agents or other employees to feel good about giving back,” she says. “It’s about knowing they’re all part of something very special.”