Hi. Let me introduce myself to you. I WAS Chicken Bob… and you ARE a Procrastinator. That’s who I was at a time when I thought my life experience would hang a much manlier tag on me. So, why am I here? Well, I believe I can help you through a difficult decision in your life when time is of the essence, and money is at the core. Truth and self-serving motives can have no place in the trusted advisor who you will allow to guide your actions.
The year is immaterial, but for the record it was 1971. I was at the annual Holiday Party of the accounting firm that hired my (first) wife when she relocated from NYC to Detroit after we married. Ours was a complicated “on again, off again” relationship that wasn’t helped by the scrambled eggs that my brain became during a violent year in Vietnam. Who I was and who I wanted to be were two different people who probably wouldn’t be friends if they met on the street. But that Holiday Party shocked me into seeing a part of me that I thought had departed earlier.
Flash back four years. I DID NOT JOIN the military to protect American freedoms and to do brave deeds on a battlefield half way around the world. I was drafted, against my will, when for a single semester I let my student deferral status fall from “full-time” to “part-time” to try and catch my breath from the hectic pace of my full-time, daytime employment at Ford Motor Company and my full-time, nighttime student status at the Center for Creative Studies. I was chasing my dream of becoming the guy who crafts the appearance of tomorrow’s transportation sculptures. I wanted to be a car designer.
That’s when I secretly addressed the issue of running away from danger. Living in Detroit allowed me a very convenient option. I lived just 7 miles from the International Ambassador Bridge that links the USA (Detroit) to Canada (Windsor). At the time (1967) many Americans who got their Draft Notifications, fled to Canada to avoid their military obligation. There were many excuses, mostly circling around the “unjust war” theme. For me, I truly believed that Americans rode into war on white horses, wearing shining armor and white hats. We were the uncontested “good guys”. We did no wrong. For me it was simply fear of death that called to me from the bridge. I was ashamed to learn that I was a chicken.
I struggled with this and repeated an einey-meiney-miney-moe exercise every morning for three months as my date for military induction approached. One day I was sure that Canada offered the only path that would allow me to live long enough to be a dad and have a family. The next day would be the horrific realization that crossing that bridge into Canada would end any welcome to re-entering the USA, even for a day. I went back and forth on this. I was sure that such a cowardly act would embarrass my dad and my uncles on both sides of the family who served during WWII. I wanted to avoid that at all costs.
In the end, it came down to an artistic young man making a decision that he believed would be his death warrant. If it took dying to keep from embarrassing my heroes, so be it. I had a sixth sense that told me I would get deployed to the war and would certainly become dead meat shortly thereafter. Six months later I walked onto the tarmac of a crude little airport in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. I knew this was destined to be the place of my death, and I suspected that many of the other new arrivals with me harbored similar thoughts. This is when my nightly visitor, the recurring nightmare of my own personal funeral service at St. Brigid Church in Detroit began its’ run.
Fast forward one year later, to December 19th, 1968 when I stepped back onto American soil, alive and intact. I had slayed my dragon (chicken). I spent 365 days in a violent strange land, and in just 7 more months (to be spent within the safe and secure confines of the USA) my military obligation would be totally satisfied. I was different than just a year earlier. I now thought myself to be fearless. I liked the new me, but I could certainly do without the new recurring nightmares of still being deployed in the war zone. Anyway, other than the scrambled eggs in my brain, I faced life without fear…that is until the Holiday Party at the accounting firm. (Damn accountants)
The majority partner, my wife’s new boss (who I was aware had a crush on her) took me aside and suggested that I step-up my financial game and buy a home. Being a Veteran I could get in with no money down, he told me. This would be the best thing I could possibly do to kick my net worth onto the fast-track. When he pulled me aside I imagined that he was going to say something that would necessitate that I kick his ass right in the middle of a nice party…but he took a different path. His words uncovered a brand new Chicken Bob. Financial Chicken Bob.
The problem with buying a home was that I didn’t know the first thing about buying houses, and I couldn’t even spell m o r t g a g e. I didn’t have access to anyone I knew and/or trusted to guide me through the process.
This is where I entered a process that may qualify me to become your new best friend, financially. You see, Financial Chicken Bob became obsessed with the idea of home ownership at that Holiday party. But my lack of relevant knowledge about real estate and finance wouldn’t allow me the liberty to buy a home until I personally researched all of the details before signing a debt obligation that was several times my gross income.”
Within months of that Holiday party Chicken Bob quit his job at General Motors and accepted a job at a little mortgage company that I never even heard of, because they offered training. My plan was to soak-up as much information as possible for one year and then quit the mortgage industry and resume my former career path in the auto industry. The problem was that it didn’t work out that way because it seemed as soon as I got comfortable with one facet, it opened doors to others, equally or more important, which kept me from leaving for the sake of learning. Within two years I was promoted to manager of the mortgage office earning over three times what GM had been paying me, making it all but impossible for me to leave. I continued enrollment in night school using my VA education benefits and in no time I was teaching courses in real estate and finance there.
I know your fear and I don’t mean to simply dismiss the discomfort of stepping outside your comfort circle. I was scared stiff at the thought of buying my first house! At the time, I COULDN’T DO IT.
To this date, that year has now grown to over 40 years and during that time, while responsibly arranging hundreds of millions of dollars in home loans for others, I have learned industry secrets that prompted me to develop strategies that I use personally, and that I had never intended to share beyond my own family. I’ve been active in real estate for over 40 years now and it all started from a simple comment from that CPA in Detroit.
I was shocked that something as common and peaceful as home ownership could stop me in my tracks! But as a 23 year old the thought of being obligated on a loan several times my gross annual salary froze me to the bone. I hadn’t even considered the idea previously.
Over time I became licensed as a Real Estate Broker, a Stock Broker, an Insurance Broker a Mortgage Broker and a Home Builder…all in pursuit of relevant information and financial credibly. I gained the ability to analyze various asset types and zero-in on the strengths and weaknesses of each to justify one or the other in a given market scenario. I began using this consolidated information to guide others like me into home ownership, protecting them from making any blunders in the process.
Without a college degree I was able to earn millions of dollars using the basic information that was intended to just calm my fears and to simply buy a home for my family. To this day I manage my rental properties, am active in home renovation projects for myself and others, am a partner in a boutique mortgage brokerage and spend my weekends grooming some of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen…at my house. I still love cars, preferring American brands built in the 60’s, and I’m an architectural junkie.
All this happened as a result of following an impulse to calm my fear of buying my first house. I was trying again to kill that damn chicken again. Was my fear a bit overboard? I think you might reasonably call it that, but that’s just how deep my home buying reluctance was seeded. That’s how high fear set the bar for me to get comfortable with being obligated on a home loan. It far outweighed my desire to enjoy the benefits of home ownership; the ability to crank-up my favorite tunes without neighbors upstairs and down, left and right, complaining of the noise; the pleasure of painting my surroundings whatever color I pleased; the luxury of surrounding myself with gardens including all my favorite colors and scents; the security of parking my prized old cars in an enclosed garage; and the joy of having a place of my own to mess around with personal little projects.
All this and the ultimate reason of having a safe and secure place for my family, was outweighed by my financial fear.
So with the record straight on just how cautiously I approached home ownership all those years ago, that helps set the stage for what I am not going to shyly proclaim to you; “we’re looking at the most opportune moment in history to buy a home in America!”
I personally believe that you don’t follow your gut and buy a home in this market will regret having missed this opportunity. Cluck, cluck, cluck.
If you’re approaching home ownership with apprehension and questions, you’ve just scored a big break.