For years I have written this article intending that it be helpful and readable. The few comments I receive convince me that I often miss on one or both intentions.
I hope this article is readable, but because of the subject, I’ve given up on helpful. It recites only my dismay at what we’ve done in business and real estate. The generation that included my parents never forgot the great depression. The aftermath of that tragedy probably made the survivors work harder and certainly made them more grateful for everything they had. At the same time, not every effect of the depression on future generations was positive. That’s another article.
I am equally convinced that the mortgage meltdown in the first 10 years of this century has far reaching legal and personal tolls not yet understood. I have seen general officers and sergeants in this office who had in common that they saw others getting rich in real estate speculation that was called “investment”. Intelligent, ambitious people followed the path of leveraging real estate because grifters, con-men, and people with a lot less accomplishment were so obviously getting rich.
Here’s the worry — if Angelo Mozilo, the president of Countrywide Mortgage Company, can make new rules, ignore existing ones, destroy ratios between loan and value, and make himself rich without consequence, how can we expect different conduct from each other? I know the guy who puts tires on my car. When I go in his shop, he tells me I have too much tread to worry about new tires yet, but come back in 6 months. Why would he do that?
I had my heat pump worked on. Why wouldn’t the repair man sell me parts I don’t need because he has overhead to pay and children in college? If Countrywide could sell mortgages to people who shouldn’t get them, with no equity because there are no rules or consequences, and escape with pockets full of money, why on the street level should I expect some different morality?
In mortgage foreclosures the courts have tried very hard to deal with integrity in a market that was made with none. I have a niggling feeling that any time we ignore rules consistently we can expect others to follow. But I hope I am wrong.
I propose that we recognize and hold high the following heroes:
1. The businessperson, professional, and Realtor who goes to work every day to provide a fair value for a fair price.
2. The homeowner who struggled to pay his mortgage every month, or who if he couldn’t, dealt with the problem quickly and constructively to move on.
3. The person who believes that lying and shortcuts are not acceptable just because there seems to be no consequences.
4. The head of a family who realizes the free enterprise without rules or morals is chaos.
But living within a reasonable budget may be the best gift a parent can give to a child.
My hope for Christmas is that we don’t set expectations for each other by recent example.
In this season, if you are inclined to make a gift to others, make it your willingness to treat others with the courtesy and honesty you expect from them, even if no-one will ever know.
Have a great holiday.
Mike Chesser is a Board Certified Real Estate Attorney with Chesser & Barr, P.