Thursday, January 11, 2007

Financial Assistance

I was in a waiting area the other day watching the flat screen that they had hanging at a peculiar angle up on the wall. You know the kind I'm talking about? It's the kind of angle that makes your neck hurt just enough to notice, but not so bad that you quit watching? Anyway, there was an advertisement for a company called CCCS (Consumer Credit Counseling Service). I instantly recognized the initials and remembered the companies purpose. Let me explain.

About 11 years ago I had acquired some debt that I was finding a bit hard to pay off. I know, I know - that's rare today, right? ;) Someone had referred me to CCCS and said that they could help me pay of the debt over a period of time while setting me up on a payment plan that met my budget. It sounded great. I went. It was true. They did a fantastic job. I met with a counselor at no charge to me. This person assessed my situation and then gave me 2 or 3 options to choose from. I opted for one over the other and ended up paying off my debt. End of story? No! Well, it's the end of my story, but not this blog.

When I saw the advertisement on the odd angled flatscreen I assumed that CCCS was still one dimensional. In other words, I assumed that they still did basic debt management and assistance. I was wrong. They have branched out into money management, educational assistance for budgeting and so forth, and they've also made the move into the industry of bankruptcies. What do I mean?

Under the heading Bankruptcy Services you will find some useful information about the things that should happen before a bankruptcy is final. For instance, on their webpage it says, "The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 mandates that consumers receive financial counseling with an approved agency prior to their bankruptcy petition being filed. Further, the law requires consumers to participate in a financial education course before their debts can be discharged." I didn't know this. And seeing as how I'm in the real estate profession, this is very useful information. From time to time I run into very nice folks who either have a bankruptcy on their credit or they are a past client who is currently about to file chapter 11 or 13. I am contacted for advice. Can you see how this would be helpful?

CCCS offers 2 courses for folks dealing with bankruptcy:

Pre-filing Bankruptcy Counseling
Pre-discharge Bankruptcy Education

These courses are offered in 3 ways - over the phone, face-to-face, or online. That's incredible.

Here is their quote about the cost:

The fee for each course, including materials, is $50. However, we do not refuse service to anyone based on their inability to pay. If you feel that the fee is a hardship, please discuss this with your counselor. The required certificates will be issued at the conclusion of each course.

I have to tell you that I am thoroughly impressed. This is a great service and one that I am going to keep in mind for any past or future clients.

If you are someone who has, or is, dealing with a bankruptcy issue it may do you well to check out their website at

Have a super day!

Dustin Curlee

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

New Home Buyer Classes

There are 2 types of handypeople in this world - good and bad!

The good handyperson can see a problem - let's say, a leaky sink - assess the situation, maybe take a quick look at some stuff online, go to the nearest Lowe's, and make the problem go away. These folks may have never had a scrap of formal training in their entire lives. Yet they can fix just about anything they want to. And, in fact, they may decide to take on large remodeling projects and make the job look like something that appears on HGTV. I like to call these people fiximus anythingus rexus.

Then there's the bad handyperson. This person should never pick up a tool. They see a situation within the home that needs repair, and despite past, failed attempts at home repair resolution, they believe somewhere deep down in their clouded minds that THIS TIME it will be different...and it never is. I like to call this person nofiximus anythingus goofus.

I am the person who should NEVER pick up a tool. My wife is the kind of person that can paint or fix anything. In fact, when we first moved in to our own she wanted to knock down a wall in our master bath. I said no, but only because I was scared that I'd have to help and the house would have fallen down. But she amazes me. She, howevere, is the exception rather than the rule.
Most of us do not know how to do many of the necessary home repairs that come with home ownership. It seems as though there is always something needing to be fixed. And when you finish one job, you find out there's one more waiting. It can be very overwhelming, yes?
What if there were a class for home fix-it beginners? Wouldn't that be helpful? Well, there is!

Neighborhood Housing Services has begun a 2 night class on basic homeowner repair. I believe that it's limited to clients of the NHS, but it's still something that is available to the public. Some of the topics they cover are "particular chores" (whatever that means), cleaning out gutters, and using a stud finder. Yes, some of us need help understanding that freaky little box that seems to beep no matter where you place it. Mary Ann Anthony, a single mother of three, was taught how to use a cordless drill. She says, "No one ever let me do that." And now she knows how.
It may be worth a phone call. Or, if you are adept in the area of home repair, maybe you could start a class in your neighborhood. Just check with your HOA. You'd be surprised at how many people out there have absolutely no idea how to do the simplets of repairs.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Passion In Action

Pardon me, but may I have this dance?

Sunday, December 10th, in the newspaper, I found an article in the S.A.Life section entitled, "Passion in Action." It is subtitled, "Argentine tango stirs the soul." Yes, you guessed it, it's about dancing - specifically, it's about the Argentine Tango.

There are a myriad of dance styles. There's the more refined and elegant styles like the Waltz and the Foxtrot. There is also the fast paced style called Swing - the Lindyhop, Charleston, and Boogie Woogie are a few nuances of Swing. There's Country and Western dancing - the two step, county western waltz, and line dancing are a few sub styles within this genre. And there's even what is called "Street Dance." Yep, the bump and grind would be a style within this genre, but also breakdancing, uprock, and popping/locking as well.

However, if you've ever danced before, then you are aware that dances like the Rumba, Salsa, Bolero, and (drum roll please) the Tango are all in a class of their own. These are under the heading of Latin Dances. They are intricate, great exercise, and very, very CLOSE dances.

My wife and I took dance lessons at Arthur Murray's one time. I can't tell you how much fun that it was. Well, I could, but unless you experience it, you won't really understand. Not only was it really good exercise, but it was the complete antithesis of a dinner and a movie type outing. We actually talked!!! We touched!!! We laughed!!! Amazing, isn't it? And when we got to the Latin Dances, well...let's just say that it set a very great mood for the rest of the evening. Think about it - you are hip to hip, cheek to cheek, moving in rhythm, and sweating. So, I only suggest this for the married, or those who have accountability after the class is over. :)

Anyway, if you want to read what I read then go to this article at MySa.Com. You will find the locations and times of classes all over San Antonio. I really recommend taking a class or two if you haven't ever done so. Even if you have taken a class before, take one again. It can't hurt.


Monday, December 4, 2006

Real Estate Gimmicks!

There are many Realtors out there who are using gimmicks to lure in people. I also forewarned readers to beware these gimmicks. They, like the proverbial book, aren't to be judged by their cover. The adage, "sounds too good to be true," is very fitting in most instances where these gimmicks are concerned. For instance, you may see an advertisement in a magazine, on the Internet, or even on the side of a van that says, "We will sell your home for free..." Often times, in fact, most times, there is no fine print below, above, or present, explaining the catch. And believe me, there is a catch. I mean honestly, would an Agent of any brokerage sell a home for free??? Or, you may see an advertisement that says, "We will sell your home in 24 hours...guaranteed!" When the general public sees an ad like this the immediate thought is, "Wow, in the real estate market the competition is high. Agents are doing everything they can to grab Clients. This person is really putting themselves on the line."

Now, they ARE in fact putting themselves on the line, but not in the way the consumer may be thinking. Another advertisement that is pretty popular is, "We will sell your home in ______ days or we will buy it!" This advertisement is more true than not. Your home will be purchased, but at what price? In most cases the deceptive agent WILL in fact buy your home if they don't sell it in 30, 60, or 90 days, but it will be purchased at appraised value - and I bet the appraiser used may be a good friend of the agent. Regardless, your home won't be purchased at list price.
My point is that these advertisements are very misleading. They are borderline deceptive.

I had an interesting conversation with an attorney at the Texas Real Estate Commission today. I explained to her a hypothetical scenario. My hypothetical scenario was a "what if" type of event. For example, what if I said this, that, or the other (one of the gimmicks mentioned above) in my advertising as an Agent or Realtor? She immediately let me know that I was being deceptive and/or misleading. I agreed. She also told me that if a client were wise enough they could report me, I would be investigated by TREC, and I'd be in trouble. It was an enlightening conversation.

Now, some of you reading this may say, "Gosh, aren't you kind of shooting yourself in the foot? You aren't going to be able to use these gimmicks now. You have knowledge of their motive." No, we aren't shooting ourselves in the foot. We don't use these kinds of gimmicks. We never have. Call us here at 4Front Real Estate Group old fashioned, but we believe in stellar Client service as the best tool for growing and sustaining our business. Smoke and mirrors aren't necessary. When we advertise, "Wow - under contract in 8 days," that's because the home went on the market 8 days earlier and had a receipted contract on it in 8 days. Or, when we advertise, "This home sold in _____ weeks," it really did. Or when we advertise that we give unique and preeminent service, we really do. You see, if we advertised using gimmicks then we'd be more worried about avoiding the catch in the gimmick than we would be concerned about you - the Client. Thus, you'd suffer. This is unacceptable.

Agents have enough trouble competing against each other in the marketplace without gimmicks. And Agents who advertise like this, in many instances, give the rest of us bad names who work in this industry. There are enough car salesmen in the world.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Blog Technology


Ok, so I did some research on what is called "Blog Optimization." Why? Well, I'm trying to make our blog a little higher up on the search engine. Let me tell you what - blog optimization is much like website optimization, i.e. extremely expensive and difficult. I'm not in to expensive. I'm ok with difficult. Thus, I tried to find ways around the expensive part.

Lo and behold I found some ways around the expensive part of blog optimization. You can create a blog and then do what is called link reciprocation. For instance, if you go to Active Rain's website you will see very quickly that it is a real estate resource concerning blogs. I went there, registered, placed a link for my blog on there registry, and then also placed a link on my blog homepage to their website - link reciprocation! They aren't the only folks who offer this service. Below are a list of folks to visit:

Free Feeds
Inman News

These are just a few of the people who offer link reciprocation, RSS feeds, and so forth. There are also free search bars that push you up in Google's crawlers. The options are pretty endless.

Then there are the paid sites you can visit, register, give them large amounts of money, and they do automatic link reciprocation, page optimization, and you are automatically placed into a network of websites who have also paid these same people and give allowance for link reciprocation de facto.

You may be asking, "Dustin, did it work?" Yes and no! I have now placed myself in the running, so to speak. I will begin to move up on the searches. However, there are a couple of people who not only do free link reciprocation, but they also shell out the bucks for professional page optimization. I don't feel this is necessary - yet. :)

So while my efforts don't have immediate fruits, much like fruit - they will blossom over time. Besides, I'm fairly positive that blog optimization is much like long term real estate: it's based on referrals, not out sourcing. In other words, the more that people like you say, "Hey, that guy Dustin has a good blog site. You should visit," and then people come and we get more hits on our site, the higher up we are in Google's ratings. It's a referral based business.

That's all I have for now! I could post so much more. Please, if you have any comments feel free to share them.



I'm going to post more about this topic later tonight, or possibly tomorrow. In the mean time, if anyone how multifaceted, complex, and intricate the blog world is then please feel free to comment.Technorati Profile


Tryptophan, Thanksgiving, and other stuff...

Does tryptophan (an amino acid found in turkey) cause us to get drowsy?

I'm a fairly healthy guy. I consider myself to have an athletic build, although I'm no Brad Pitt, to be sure (who is?). I am in the gym 6 mornings a week. I do cardio, weight lifting, and racquetball once a week. Needless to say, I've been considering the negative effects that the pounds of food I am going to eat within the next day or so were going to have on my body. We are going to have cheesecake, peanut butter balls, homemade fudge; of course there will be turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, ad nauseam. In my time of consideration I began to wonder, "Self, I wonder if the tryptophan in turkey has anything to do with weight gain over the Thanksgiving holidays? I mean, after all, you get drowsy, lay down, and all of that food turns into fat while you are sleeping." Such ponderings led me to investigate the tryptophan culprit. My findings were surprising.

According to studies, tryptophan doesn't have anything to do with Thanksgiving drowsiness at all. In fact, according to Snopes.Com, "tryptophan doesn't act on the brain unless it is taken on an empty stomach with no protein present, and the amount gobbled even during a holiday feast is generally too small to have an appreciable effect." What does have an effect on our energy levels are 1. the amounts of food that we eat (which my amount will be almost illegal), 2. the kind of food that we eat (after all, it is mainly a carb infested meal), and 3. alcohol consumed (which in my case will be none - I don't drink). These 3 factors, either just one or all 3 combined, are the determining causes of energy levels on Thanksgiving day. Surprised? I was!

So go ahead - eat the heck out of some turkey. Gobble up (pun intended) the massive, mounted, and mouthwatering, munchables laid before you tomorrow. Just know that after you've partaken of the banquet of butt/thigh gainer, you will become sleep...veeeeeery sleepy - but it has absolutely nothing to do with tryptophan.

I hope everyone has an absolutely outstanding Turkey day. If you don't celebrate Thanksgiving...well, I still hope you have a super day off of work. And just in case anyone wants to read about the history, the unabridged and authentic history, of the Thanksgiving miracle, check this out:

Bridgeway Bible Church (scroll to the bottom where it talks about Thanksgiving)


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Texas Homestead Exemption

What is the Texas Homestead Exemption? How does it benefit you?

Texas Homestead Exemption --

The Texas Homestead Exemption, in addition to providing legal protection regarding your home, will also save you money on your property tax bill. This homestead exemption reduces taxes by lowering a home's taxable value. In addition, all school districts offer a $5000 homestead exemption. Some districts taxing units offer a percentage exemption of up to 20% of a home's assessed value. This means that homeowners can lower their property taxes by applying for these exemptions for which they are eligible.

Here's the thing - You must actually OWN your own home and occupy it as your principal residence by January 1, 2007. You can have only ONE principal residence and ONE homestead exemption.

Here is the link for the form needed in order to apply and be eligible:

If you are in the market to purchase a home before the 1st of the year then you couldn't have picked a better time. First of all, because the market is a bit slower during the "off" season, sellers are a little more willing to negotiate on price. Second, the typical transaction from start to finish (including the home search) takes anywhere from 30-60 days. This means that if you have a strong and knowledgeble real estate professional (like us) then you can get your search done, negotiations done, and the closing done -- all before the 1st.