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You Can’t Snow the Snowman

John and Jim

John Page could make my Dad laugh.  I mean really laugh.  You know the type of laugh that comes from deep inside your belly?  That’s the kind of laughter I’m talking about.  When the two of them got together the beer would flow.  Stories were told and new memories created.

That’s the two of them pictured – John to the left, my Dad to the right – smiles bright and faces flush from a night full of laughter and wine.

They met in the first grade and grew up together in Belvidere, Illinois – friends for almost 60 years.  John served in the Air Force during Vietnam, my Dad in the Army.  Although they were separated at times they never lost touch.  After my Dad moved our family to Arizona in 1977 John would bring his family here from Illinois to visit us.  Likewise, my Dad would take me, my Mom and brother back to Illinois every summer to visit our relatives – and of course, the Page family.

John’s oldest son, Brian and I are the same age.  And like our Dads we have also been lifetime friends.  Growing up not a summer went by that Brian and I didn’t see each other.  I remember one year in particular.  We had been up all night screwing around like teenagers do.  John wondered why we had slept in so late.  Brian and I gave him a less than honest answer and John quickly replied “you can’t snow the snowman!”

John was the life of the party and he had the funniest lines – so many in fact that his daughter, Jennifer, began compiling a list of them a few years ago.  If he was a guest at my home and I didn’t offer him a cocktail promptly I could be sure to hear “it’s dryer than a Baptist picnic around here!”

That’s why it breaks my heart to be writing about John in the past tense. On January 22nd, 2011 he died after an eight month battle with esophageal cancer.  Not a day has gone by since that I don’t think about, and pray, for him and his family.

John was a loving husband to his wife Mary.  He was a proud father of Brian, Andy, and Jennifer.  He was a doting grandfather to Wyatt.  And he was one of my Dad’s closest friends.  I’m blessed to have known John and his family all these years.

Me, John, Mary, Renee (Brian's wife), Brian, Ally (my daughter), Jim, my Mom (Brenda)

John’s passing has helped me focus on what’s important; creating memories with family and friends.  He’s even helped me out with my real estate business.  These days when someone presents me with a less than honest evaluation of a property I like to say “you can’t snow the snowman!”

At his memorial service a few weeks ago I spoke with one of John’s neighbors.  She told me that she was in the happy hour club with John.  She then paused for a moment and said, “Actually John WAS the happy hour club!”

I can’t help thinking that things must have been getting a little dull in Heaven.  John was needed to get the ultimate happy hour started.  I bet he even used one of his famous lines when he got there, “let’s party like rock stars!”

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Buying an Investment Property in Arizona

There are 13 different species of rattlesnakes in Arizona, more than any other state.  You may be surprised to learn that the rattlesnake is the only kind of snake that doesn’t lay eggs.  The mother actually gives live birth.  What may surprise you even more is that I, an almost-Arizona native, didn’t know this until about two weeks ago.  I had to attend reading appreciation day at my daughters’ elementary school to learn this interesting fact.

Children’s author Conrad Storad was there and he read his book, Rattlesnake Rules, to the kids.  In this rhythmic, non-fiction tale he explains how all rattlesnakes have rules to live by – just like people.  It was fascinating information.

I moved to Arizona in 1977 at the age of 5.  And with the exception of a one-year stint in Denver, have lived here for most of my life.  I’ve been hunting, fishing, water skiing, hiking, camping and just plain screwing around in the desert for as long as I can remember.  And you want to know the funny part?  The only rattlesnake I’ve ever come across was at the Phoenix Zoo.

That’s why I find it amusing when out of state folks visit here and expect to see a dry, harsh desert landscape with tumbleweeds rolling by.  Arizona is actually a very diverse state.  Our elevation ranges from about sea level all the way up to 11,000 feet.  I once water skied and snow skied in the same weekend.

So when I quit my corporate job 10 years ago and decided to get into real estate investing it made sense to set up shop right here in my own backyard.  Who wouldn’t want to live in a state that has sunshine 300 days a year? 

Okay, I’ll admit the summers are a little intense.  If you’ve never been here just trying sticking your head in an oven set at 180 degrees.  That’s what it feels like.   Luckily, it doesn’t last long.  And it’s a short two-hour drive from my home in Gilbert up to Flagstaff where the temperatures are about 25 degrees cooler.

Historically speaking, there has never been a better time to buy an investment property in Arizona then right now.  I know, I know – this probably sounds like typical real estate investor propaganda to you right?  The truth is I have nothing to gain by sharing this.  I just hate to see people miss out on all the opportunities in the marketplace.  We fix and flip, buy and hold and offer seller financing to borrowers with shaky credit.  Since last July we’ve sold more than 40 properties.  How can that be with all the bad news about real estate these days?

There is demand for our fix and flip properties because of all the distress in the market.  Most of the homes for sale these days are in poor condition.  Buyers don’t have the imagination or the checkbook to fix them up.

What about buy and hold, or rental properties?  There is enormous demand for single family homes in middle class neighborhoods because so many homeowners have been foreclosed on.  These people need a place to live and renting is their only option because of their damaged credit.

And what about my favorite exit strategy, seller financing?  This is like a hybrid fix and flip – buy and hold business model.  We make money from the buyer’s down payment.  We also cash flow when the buyer makes the interest payment every month.  Best of all, we get a lump sum profit check when the buyer refinances the note, usually within 3-5 years, because we bought the house at such a steep discount from the auction. 

There is tremendous demand for this service because so many people have walked away from their homes.  I have a list with over a dozen buyers right now that are waiting for us to find them a home.  We have several performing notes now and you can bet the investors we partner with are pleased with the returns.

Over the next three weeks I’ll go into detail with each of these exit strategies and how they work in the Phoenix market:

  1. Fix and flipping.
  2. Buy and Holding.
  3. Seller financing.

But, unlike most real estate professionals you’ll meet I’m going to share our successes AND failures with you.  If you plan on buying investment property in Arizona soon, or anywhere else for that matter, my hope is that this information will prevent you from getting snake bit.

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