Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Gold Is Where You Find It! Edited by Dane Hahn

What follows is an excerpt (Chapter 2) from my new book, Gold is Where You Find It!   Available on Kindle.

This book is a personal chronicle of the days in the early part of the last century when adventurous young men went west, it's a memoir of 1905-1909 composed in the late 1940’s by Lew Hahn--who by the time he penned these memories had a long history as a successful businessman. But as a young man he and his friends experienced some of the wonders the West had to offer. He and four of his close friends were promised jobs in Nevada and-sensing adventure and possible riches, they decided to leave their homes, their families and girlfriends and all that they knew and loved to make their way west and take advantage of the silver and gold fields that were still in development and production and to learn more about themselves.

The adventure which follows sketches a phase in American life which has disappeared. Horace Greeley the famous newspaper publisher is often quoted as saying, “Go West Young Man”. Going west made sense because the East was civilized and for a young man, unexciting and without opportunity. And so it became the ambition of a large segment of American youth to go west, not to become cowboys, but for the adventure and to make a new life in a land where there were no rules.

The great frontier offered exploration, riches and adventure, an always effective lure for young Americans. The frontier provided an opportunity that could no longer be found in the stabilized communities of the East and Mid-West. Much of the allure of the West of 1900-1910 was lost almost immediately as the United States expanded and life became easier--and as the law came into wider enforcement. Back then the West was a rough and tumble life where fortunes could be made and lost overnight. And they often were.

This was a special time in the United States, it was 40 years after the Civil War, about the same time as the Spanish American War and some few years before The Great War, later dubbed WWI. Only a few years after this adventure, thousands of young men and women came back from the war in Europe having traveled greater distances and seen more lands and strange sights than Marco Polo ever dreamed. By then the idea of going out-west to Nevada or to Arizona or Texas had lost much of it’s glamor and romance. Our shrinking frontier still had it‘s picturesque aspects but by the 1950’s the whole United States had become much more homogenized, with one area being much the same as another.

Blame the new “coast-to-coast USA” on good automobiles and interstate highways; on gas stations with free maps and long-distance telephone; blame it too on the media: radio and Hollywood movies and great newspapers and national magazines with huge circulations all did their part to tame the whole of the United States. By the 1950’s, travel to the west was no longer exploration--it had lost most of it’s danger--and left little room for any hope of strange and unfamiliar scenes and habits in even the most remote parts of our land.

But in 1905 there was a magical appeal to the West. One could get lost in the West, and maybe never be found again. It was a time before civilization found it's way to Nevada, when horses were the norm and the telephone was in it's infancy. The book is available on Kindle--and the following excerpt is part of the second chapter:

When the day to leave for the west finally came we all greeted it with a sense of manifest destiny. We were actually going to live up to our decision, and we gathered our posessions and left for the train. A long ride west through the dark of night. The train took us north to Albany and then turned toward the west. All night the rain pelted the windows of our car as we drove through the wind and rain of that dark night, the train pitched and swayed while the rhythmic click of the speeding wheels seemed to us to be saying “Goin’ west—Goin’ west, Goin’ west!”

Those friends who had come to the New York train station to see us off and wish us such good fortune, doubtless were sleeping soundly in their familiar beds, while we were boring through the storm and the night into what, no one could say. Inside our tourist sleeper with its rattan-covered seats, we five were variously engaged. Young Hops (the youngest), was writing in a small leather-covered book which he was using as a diary. Farrel, with his impish grin, was stealing a glimpse at what the first was writing. Then he read it out to the three of us across the aisle. “Hops” squirmed with embarrassment but his tormentor was unmoved to any show of mercy.

In the days to come Hops, whose real name was Freddie Armbruster, “Peskey “, who was William Hesketh, and “Bunny”, actually Eugene Pattberg, would so frequently be the butts of Frank Farrel’s curious and persistent sense of humor that, had his smiling expression been absent, it would have left the three with a deep sense of something missing.

I think we were all impressed that night with the thought that, in spite of the high hopes which led us on, we were leaving the comparatively sheltered life to which we had been born, and were venturing upon a new career which would be full of dangers and uncertainties in the new and crude mining camp which was our objective. Our train plowed its way unhesitatingly through the wild storm with the locomotive occasionally shrieking out its fear and dissatisfaction. We slept well that night—but each with our own plans and concerns. In the morning, everything was different.

In the morning we awoke to find our cars rattling along the shore of Lake Erie, and finally that afternoon, the train made it's way into the station where we finally disembarked with all of our things, only to have to find a stage coach connection. We sat on top of the coach while the driver leaned forward and cracked his whip over the backs of the galloping horses. It was night again, and a vicious wind blew through our clothing and struck us with the chill of interstellar space. Our train from New York had arrived late, it was already dark and it appeared to be a matter of pride with the driver that we should not miss our connection. On he pushed through the city's traffic to the next station which we made with only a few moments to spare.

As the coach swayed and bounced we were hard put to keep our places on top of the heaped up luggage. Any hand grip or suitcase handle was fair game to keep from falling. Although it seemed as though we already had reached the wild and woolly west, we were in fact only in Chicago, going from one railroad station to another on a Parmelee bus, which in those days was drawn by horses.

Five boys traveling together could hardly escape the sympathetic interest of fellow passengers and train crew alike. As we watched with interest the limitless prairie lands sliding by our windows, or excitedly scanned the mountains stretching out on the horizon, there was no lack of kindly folks to explain the things we saw. The train, now pulled by double engines, puffed its way west to the Rockies, we were thrilled by the scenery on all sides.

In Denver we had a stop-over for two days because some very good friends of Bunny's family lived there. These good folks quite generously took us in and put us up at their comfortable home and gave us the chance to see something of the Queen City of the Plains. At the zoological garden I ran into my first adventure. I had a camera with me and wanted to take a picture of a small herd of bison in a large enclosure. However, the fence seriously interfered with the picture, so I climbed over it and was busily engaged in focusing the camera upon the Bison when a shout called my attention to a large bull advancing threateningly upon me. I lost interest in the picture but managed to get back over that fence before the humpbacked creature reached me.
Our broken journey was resumed upon the Denver and Rio Grand Railway and our heads were more or less continuously poked out of the opened windows of our car as we marveled at the beautiful mountain scenery. The Royal Gorge interested us to no end and we took full advantage of the short stop made for the benefit of sight seeing.

The long journey, within the narrow confines of our two tourist sections had offered us an opportunity to know each other somewhat better. We had thought we were pretty well acquainted before starting out, but upon being thrown together in such close contact, we began to form new appraisals of each other. Bunny and Peskey rang true. They proved to be warm-hearted and friendly, unselfish and dependable. They would do as team-mates to "ride the river".

Farrel was a curious individual. He was friendly enough and well-liked but appeared proud to say there was no human being who meant anything to him. I can recall no instance in which he ever failed to take his part, or proved other than a good companion, and yet one always had the feeling he had not succeeded in getting close to him. Young Hops, I soon came to realize, was really too young for our undertaking. Later on after we were established in Nevada, I lost track of him but subsequently learned he had returned to the east and his home. The rest of us stuck together as long as that proved to be possible.

On the train we had plenty of time to reflect on the stories which Henry Weber had told us of the opportunities in Goldfield. He had described the men of the mining camps as a tough lot. Six guns were as common an adjunct of the well-dressed mining camp man as handkerchiefs were in the effete east.
As we were encouraged to picture the westerners, they were big and rough and honest, but thin-skinned and resentful of real or fancied insults, jealous of their own reputations for courage and not to be trifled with. It seemed that many a man who had intended no reflection upon one of these Argonauts had met a sad and untimely end through some misunderstanding which he had had no chance to explain.

It was small wonder that as the train moved relentlessly on toward Nevada and the camps, we began to believe that our undertaking was something which required an almost reckless brand of courage. Weber had told us, with dramatic emphasis, the way in which prospectors would set forth on journeys over the deserts and through the mountains, prodding before them a couple of laden burros, as they searched for rich mineral-bearing lands.

From our conversations both back in New York and along the way on the train, we boys felt totally familiar and eager to begin with the processes. We could visualize the prospector coming into an established camp with a canvas bag of samples of rock which he would take to an assay office for testing. Then we could see him when he got his assay certificates and found the ore was rich enough to indicate his claims had the making of a good mine. No matter how closely he tried to keep his important secret, the knowledge would somehow get out and other men would dog his footsteps night and day in order to follow him into the section in which he had made his strike.

Then the rush would commence. In two or three days, there might be a thousand or fifteen hundred men where formerly there had been nothing but the brooding silence of the barren hills. Thus would a new camp be formed and its early days usually witnessed all sorts of violence. Misunderstandings about the location of claims, conflicts in the grabbing of tent sites, almost anything could lead to gun play. We were duly warned to be on our guard if we ever came into contact with such men.

We watched eagerly from the windows of our train when we reached what we considered to be cattle country. Sure enough there were scattered bunches of cows and, now and then, had the exciting experience of seeing a cowboy on a loping bronco. Eventually the train crossed the state line into Nevada and, of course, everything along the way immediately assumed a new interest to us. We saw lofty mountains and wide expanses of fairly level ground covered sparsely with gray-green growth which we took to be sage brush. As we began to approach our point of debarkation, we became more and more impatient when we learned our train was running some hours late. An inquiry of the porter developed the information that we should not reach Hazen until midnight, actually it was nearly 2 o'clock in the morning when we got there, but for the two hours prior to that time the porter in our car had been begging us, that upon reaching the station on no account should we leave it's protection before daylight. He told us with eyes rolling and mouth twitching about some rough men who only the week before had captured and lynched some inoffensive people who had left the train at night at Hazen.

Even as I write this I find myself unable to doubt the sincerity of that porter. I know not what may have been the cause of his alarm for us but it was genuine and he practically knelt in the aisle and begged us, as we valued our lives end loved our mothers to heed his injunction. By the time the train had pulled up at the little Hazen station, other passengers were poking their heads through the curtains of their berths and joining their implorations with those of the porter. We must be sure we did not leave the slim protection of the railway station until broad daylight.

Thus counseled, we gathered all our worldly possessions and debarked from the train to the little station--the underlying fears which we dared not acknowledge to each other, grew within us and we had not the slightest desire or disposition to leave what we regarded as the friendly shelter of the station. Nothing could have tempted us to such rashness. We found however, that no matter how much protection that diminutive building gave us, it was not comfortable for five tired boys to spend the four remaining hours until daybreak.
To begin with, the station was cold and cheerless, being just a box of small dimensions, with a wooden bench which ran around three walls. This bench was punctuated at intervals approximately the width of a human posterior by curved iron arms. Of course we were dog tired, for we had not slept since the previous night. I think I always shall remember, and sometimes I even think I still can feel the discomfort which attended our efforts to lie down on those seats. To put one's head under one iron arm and curl one's mid-section around another, then to pass one's legs through a third required more ability as a contortionist than I possessed. Finally, I gave up the effort and sat up as I tried to enjoy the spectacle of the other fellow's efforts to get some rest.

Slowly the hours dragged their weary way past us in that little Hazen station. The first weak light of dawn drew me forth from the door to look about. My eyes took in the blackish butte across from the station and traveled slowly over the sage brush country, at last to come to rest in amazement at a comfortable-looking small hotel a couple of hundred yards away. As I gazed in wonderment, the door opened and a man who proved to be the proprietor, came out on the verandah, sniffed the cool dawn air and began to sweep the porch.

I lost no time rushing back into the station, waking the others and leading the rush for that hotel. Probably, if that porter who had warned us to stay in the station had been there just then, an incipient riot would have been started. The realization that we had spent those uncomfortable hours in the station when we might have had the comfort of beds at the hotel was too much for us. We did find excellent accommodations at the hotel. After the consolation of a thoroughly satisfying breakfast, we got a room and washed up, then we loafed about t he hotel until it was time to catch our next train southward to Goldfield.

Get your copy at Amazon.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bank of America Offers Borrowers a Rental Plan Instead of Eviction.

Lots of news in the real estate world this week, and as usual it comes with lots of opinion as well.  First of all, the major TV news outlets are reporting that “made good” resale house prices (main street homes that actually have sold) are up and this in the face of sales volume (total number of sales) being down.  And new homebuilders were surprised this week that they have experienced extremely high cancellations of homes they thought they had sold back in January. 

These new home and resale data are national numbers.  My opinion is that here in SW Florida we are selling homes in an orderly fashion, the prices have not increased as yet, but there have been a good quantity of buyers who will buy something—so at the moment, a low price is still a key ingredient in the speed of a sale.  i.e. If you're a seller, and want to sell ASAP, underprice the home by 2 to 5% and it will sell quickly.  If you are in the camp which says,” I’m not going to give the house away”, then do us all a favor and take your house off the market for another 8-10 months.  You won’t miss a buyer if you are asking too much, and in another 10-12 months, when you are finally negotiating with a buyer, the house will not have languished on the market all that time, you will be selling a “new listing”.

And what’s up with the banks?  This always seems like a soap opera, but here’s the latest:  The Bank of America said it would turn troubled homeowners into renters without ordering them to move.  The bank said it would offer a pilot program in three states that would open the option of renting a home to borrowers who have defaulted on their mortgages.

The plan would allow the property to stay in use, which would lend itself to better maintenance and the prevention of vandalism.  Banks could also use such a system to wait out the downturn in the housing market.  Instead of auctioning off a house now, while home prices are depressed, banks could allow the home to be rented temporarily.  It would be offered to homeowners when loan modifications fail to help the homeowner avoid foreclosure. 

The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday the bank started the owner-to-renter program this week with 1,000 borrowers.  As is typical of banks, however, BofA still shuns the idea of becoming a long-term landlord or homeowner. The plan involves selling the home to investors within three months, or just after the homeowner makes the first rent payment. The bank is then auctioning off a home that includes an immediate income for the buyer.  The bank said there were many investors interested in the program, which will start with homes worth between $75,000 and $1 million. No information on when the program will be introduced in SW Florida.  I say this is a good idea, and it will keep folks in the homes they know and like. The residents have basically been renting anyway, they wouldn't qualify for this program if they had any equity in the home.

And what’s going on with the “flipping trials” that have shared the front pages of the local papers this week?  Well, as the testimony unwinds, I will try to boil down the facts as they are presented and give you an idea of how and why all this transpired. 

But first, let me say the “Cliff’s Notes” version is pretty simple.  It really depended on the following three axioms:

Real Estate values will always go up; banks and mortgage companies are so busy they are not even reading the applications and they will sell the loans anyway; and with a team of morally challenged players (specialists in lending, closing, and sales) the sky is the limit. 

Remember when they explained in 9th grade; if you want to know why things happen, follow the money?  (More to come on this topic).

Dane Hahn is a real estate professional in Englewood; you can reach him at 941-681-0312, or by email at  See him on the web at

Sunday, March 18, 2012

4 Million Baby Boomers Will Turn 65 This Year

One reason our local Florida real estate should begin an upswing is that baby boomers are becoming seniors at a rate of 10,000 per day, 4 million per year. By 2020, 80 million people in the U.S. will be 65 or older.  This is huge for Florida.
As a Realtor, I can most certainly help these new seniors flee ice storms and frost heaves, and find them nicely priced homes, either new or used.  I spent this week showing golf course homes, but it doesn’t matter whether they want waterfront, or golf course front or just seek the security of a gated retirement community with internal social activities, it’s all here.

I welcome new seniors to our neighborhoods almost everyday.  They come from all parts of the US and make great neighbors.  They still support their old regional sports favorites but as often as not they are friendly and like to share their favorite regional food preferences with the neighborhood, so getting together usually is always interesting.  And municipal officials are quick to note they don’t impact the schools or police as younger residents might--they commit far fewer crimes and drive less—even if they require more medical facilities.

These early retirement buyers usually start off looking to buy a smallish home.  But once they get their confidence up, many move right up, often to a quite large home.  And mostly they all come here for the same reasons.  As my wife likes to say “We used to live on a lake in New Hampshire but shoveling snow, raking the leaves and mowing the lawns became such a burden that we ended up in Englewood.”

Even though our parents hated the concept of moving, when I was getting out of college, IBM meant “I’ve Been Moved”.  People who worked for the giant computer maker were certain they would be asked to move every 2 or 3 years.  And while I never worked for IBM, we’ve moved—on average—about every 5 years.  So to me moving is just something you do.  We have tables that have four or five stickers on the underside—from all the different moving companies we’ve used.  Back in the day, most people lived and died in the same house they grew up in.  The fact that someone would stay in their old house today with the stairs and all those extra rooms plus icy sidewalks and heating fuel costing megabucks no longer makes sense.

With our population living longer and finding more and more satisfying things to do in their latter years, the house they raised their kids in--cold in the winter, hot in the summer—well, why wouldn’t they want to get out?  Now we’re begining to see a huge explosion of people saying, “Let’s do something different.  Let’s find a home where we can swim or walk or garden year ‘round—we can keep in touch with the kids by phone or Skype.”  And like so many of these youngish retirees, they also say, "our kids will be happy to visit us in Florida."

That’s why one of my biggest disappointments is when a couple comes to look at homes and may even find one they like.  But then a health issue arises and the opportunity to actually make the move is lost. 
My wife and I both saw our mothers wanting to have a retirement home, but both our fathers were stubborn, and by the time dad had passed, mom was too old to make the change.  A study by MetLife indicates that by 2020, women between the ages of 65 to 74 will head one-third of households.

It's such a shame that when folks have been saving their whole life for a “rainy day”-- the rainy day is here and due to health, they can't seize the day. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of people who changed residences between 2010 and 2011—11.6 percent—was the lowest recorded rate since 1948.  But this number doesn’t consider the pent-up demand of families who wanted to move but couldn’t in this current recession.  As the economy improves, the senior niche market will begin an upswing that should become a huge boom. 
Dane Hahn is a real estate professional practicing in the Englewood area.  He can be reached at or 941-681-0312.  You can see him on the web at

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Houses Are Homes, Not Investments

For the past ten or twenty years, Realtors have been telling you, “your house is an investment”, and during that time—most homes actually did turn out to be pretty good investments.  The values of homes kept creeping up, and as the value of the house grew, there was always the opportunity to cash out.  You could sell the house and really cash out, or just refinance and take out some of the home’s value that exceeded what you actually owed.

Over the last couple of decades, many homeowners have considered their houses to be piggybanks, and used the home’s value to get cash for automobiles, vacations, tuition and repairs.  Previously, homes were considered a very long-term consumption “good”.  But somehow along the way, the piggybank concept has become a reasonable investment expectation. 

Even today, in this post-bubble economy homebuyers still make their purchases with the hope of short-term rewards.  When I tell my own clients that homes are dwellings, and not investments—they nod and wink and they still buy a home with the notion that it’s value will grow.  But will it grow at a rate higher than inflation, or higher than the growth of salaries?  Unless there’s a hyperinflation ahead or your house is located in the Hong Kong or London of the 21st century, the answer is no.  Why? Because your house is ultimately a product -and products have an upper bound to their prices.

Suppose you bought a single-family house over a decade ago for $200K.  At the peak of the housing bubble, the price reached $400K to your joy, and so you sold it and moved Florida.  Can the house’s price go higher from here?  For the sake of argument, let’s say that prices do keep rising.  Eventually, the next owner sells to another buyer for $800K a decade later.  Guy number two also peacefully retires in bounty. Well, where does that leave the third guy?  Unless real salaries make an incredible jump in the same time period, no one will be able to afford the home next. As the recent real-estate bubble demonstrated, there’s an upper bound to housing prices – they can’t continue rising perpetually with no end to the growth of their value.

The top of the market is the highest amount the home can be sold for.  If it is a mansion with waterfalls and tennis courts, located on a point in the ocean, maybe the value of this special home will be pretty high.  But for most of us, our investment is in an average house.  And the average house will be similar to a lot of other homes in a subdivision or development—and the value of these homes will be known.  My point is you can’t get a mortgage on a house for more than it is worth.  So the end value is known.

A house must be either sold to the next user or leased to the next renter. Houses are not magical money machines. Previous generations understood this very simple concept.  One built a home as a place to live and escape the elements, in those days, homes were not retirement tools, but rather long-term goods.  And back in the 1960’s, the value of homes depreciated over time—but when the baby boomer’s arrived and needed housing, we were off to the races.

Today you actually can still make real money trading houses.  And I’m happy to share my time-tested system with you:  buy low, and sell high.  Your profit is the difference (between the buy price and the sell price, less the transaction expenses and costs of fix-up).  But here’s the secret, since you can’t control the selling price, you must control the buy price.  All your profits are established in your purchase price. 

Step One is to buy low when the market is weak but rising—like right now.  But what’s the right price?  Ay, there’s the question, and it's one I can help you with.  Just remember, this is a great time to buy.

Dane Hahn is a real estate professional.  You can contact him at or by phone at 941-681-0312.  See him on the net at: