How Many Homes Do We Need to Own?

“Owning a home is a joy–and a headache. How much headache can you have if  you have a second home?


My answer to this question is very diplomatic—It depends. Do you need to be rich to own one home? Not necessarily. How about two?

In the mortgage loan underwriting guidance, a second home is located in a resort area, or at least 50 miles from the “first home”. Most big cities have areas where those who can afford to, spend their weekends. For families who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, some popular locations for second homes are Lake Tahoe, or closer to San Francisco, Napa Valley, as well as the Carmel-Monterey area. Some people own cabins in the woods.

We used to own a house in The Sea Ranch that I’ve written about in the past. In 1989, we bought our first “second home” there. Some years later after our daughter Tamar went to college, (and it was a challenging time in the mortgage business), we considered selling it, but it took a while before the market improved, and we could sell it and finally be free from obligation, which was a substantial financial burden.

But since then, we have returned to The Sea Ranch again and again, renting from those who somehow managed to keep their homes.


This area rejuvenates the soul.

When our older daughter, Alona visits us from Paris, we almost always spend a weekend at The Sea Ranch. Now, my wife Elfa and I are here for the Memorial Day long weekend. The house we are staying in is located on the bluff. Through the panoramic windows, we have an unobstructed view of the sunset. From the walk on the trails along the ocean, we get “drunk” on the fresh sea air.

Yesterday, Elfa asked “the question”. If we would have an extra million dollars, would we buy a house here again, which we do not have to rent to others to subsidize the mortgage payments?

For me “extra” means paying off some other debts plus over a million dollars in our mortgages. Since this might take a while, the only solution I see is to start buying lottery tickets in our neighborhood supermarket.

Nevertheless, I suggested checking out what is going on in the local real estate market. There were 26 homes that we saw listed at the real estate office (there are quite a few of them in the area). The Sea Ranch has different areas. We typically rent on the west side close to the water. This time we started with the homes on the east, hilly side and in the forest area. Suddenly, we had a completely different sense of what The Sea Ranch experience can be.


There are trails in the forest, where we picked mushrooms on our previous visits, and the area is close to the Gualala River, where we went swimming with our children years ago in our inflatable boat.

Some homes had secluded gardens, and some an ocean view.

Instead of the six-hour drive to Lake Tahoe, it takes only three hours to drive to The Sea Ranch.

According to our friend, the best local real estate agent, Cindy Kennedy, many buyers who buy here do not need mortgages. Like in San Francisco, where prices are close to what they are here, for the better properties, many buy with cash.

But for the few who need financing, getting a mortgage for a second home can be challenging. I offer solutions in my forthcoming book, “Mortgage Solutions for Smart People: 5 Easy Ways to Get Your Loan Approved”.


A few days before coming here, I discovered that my computer’s hard drive which contains all of my 45,000+ images, has “fallen asleep” and even the “genius” at the Apple store could not wake it up. Luckily, I have all my photography stored “on the cloud”. But it will take a while to download it all onto the new hard drive.

That means that I have the challenge to download some of the old images for the story that I’ve prepared and written in advance for this week. But like in the mortgage business, I found a solution.

The result is what you just finished reading and the photos, which I took in The Sea Ranch with my iPhone and simply emailed to my assistant Samantha, who puts together my Good News stories. It is amazing what this little box can do in capable hands. As you can see, my wife Elfa and I now photograph together.



Best Wishes,


Where to Find Real Estate Bargains

“Investing in real estate can make you richer or poorer. Timing makes the difference.

If you want to make a killing—buy in Havana, Cuba. According to the article,“Real estate market booming despite hurdles”, you can buy property which will need a lot of repairs in a country where there is a scarcity of everything for the bargain price of $250,000.

The moment that the U.S government lifts the embargo (hopefully soon), and the Cuban government realizes that socialism does not work (in most countries), the value of properties in Havana will sky rocket. Havana’s buildings are dilapidated, but when they will have money from the expats currently living in South Miami, or perhaps investors from China (there are 2,000 people from China studying Spanish in Cuba), the faded beauty of the city’s real estate will return. Cubans have a joyful spirit, and when their fortune turns around, it will be like a hidden jewel.

In the meantime, you have the choice to be joyful in our own backyard.

According to the article in the SF Chronicle on May 1st, 2013, “Home Prices in 20 U.S Cities Climb by Most Since May 2006”, property values in 20 cities rose 9.3 percent since February 2012. Meanwhile, according to the article “Getting Squeezed” in the SF Chronicle, “finding an apartment (for rent) in San Francisco can be harder than finding a job”.

 For instance, one can’t help but notice on Market Street in San Francisco, there are 5 or 6 new residential construction projects, adding some 4,000 new available rental and condo units on the market. A new one has broken ground recently on the corner of Octavia and Market, close to the San Francisco Jazz Hall.

My friend Ildiko Pali, a real estate agent, who is the Queen of the short sales and foreclosures, told me that there are less and less foreclosures and thus fewer bargains. She can be reached at 415-923-7628 /

I am sure it helps that the Fed is keeping the interest rates artificially very low. Rates recently dropped again and we could refinance those who’ve previously “missed the boat”. Do not wait. Without notice, the tide can rise again. (It actually did last week and rates went up, and we are now waiting for them to come down again; but we need to have your loan documents to lock the rate.)


I photographed a lot of dilapidated buildings in Havana, as well as some that already look very nice after their restoration.








Meanwhile, if you want to check real estate opportunities (and to listen to good music at the same time), join us on a trip to the Havana Jazz Festival on December 15th-23rd.


How Many Mom’s Do You Have?

“Since we traditionally give flowers on Mother’s Day to show our appreciation and love to our mother, how do we say “Thank you” and “I love you” to our Mother Earth, who gives those flowers to us?


My beautiful wife and daughters a few years ago.

How many children do you have?” is a rhetorical question. My wife Elfa and I have two daughters. For Mother’s Day, we celebrated with our youngest daughter Tamar in LA. The next day when returned to San Francisco, and our eldest daughter Alona, flew in from Paris. But I also was blessed with two mothers (unfortunately both passed on). Mama Liza, a very loving person who gave birth to me, and with whom I lived with until I got married at age 20. At that time I moved into my wife’s mother’s apartment, who for the next 20 years became my Mama Masha. We traveled together on our life’s journey until her passing in 1987, as I describe in “The Mortgage Game: The 5 C’s and How to Connect Them”. 


The title of this week’s writing was inspired by a talk given by a Family Law Attorney, Vivian Holley, who specializes in resolutions of friendly divorces and child custody, among other things, and whose name I’ve mentioned before. For a presentation to the bar association, Vivian wrote an article regarding the “40+ types of Parents Making up Today’s Family”. She mentioned that in our modern society, the old perception of what a family is, parenthood, and motherhood has changed. That transformation has an effect on today’s family relationships and on the court resolution of such disputes.

But there are also surprises in how many children one can have. On May 11th, The Wall Street Journal reported that “Mrs. Dumont has 69 kids”–a remarkable woman from whom all of us can learn how to bring up children.

One of our societal phenomenon’s are single women choose for various reasons to be or become single moms. I am honored to be a Godfather to a boy whose mother, a personal friend, divorced her husband who did not want to have children, and gave birth to a beautiful son, who is about to go to college.


In the mortgage business, the problem arises when a single parent does not have enough income to qualify for a new loan. Another friend of mine, a single mom, who owns a two-unit building, and who incidentally, invited me to her son’s bris, the Jewish tradition of circumcising a boy on his 8th day of life. She lives in one unit and rents the other. The rent almost covers her mortgage payments and property taxes. Nevertheless, she is not qualified to get a new mortgage, which could reduce her payments about $200/month.

In my work, I have helped quite a few people who are going through a divorce, which diminishes two qualifying incomes to one. There are many challenges that require creative solutions. With one client, a woman whose divorce procedure was going to be complete in six months, I suggested that she use her own money now to buy a condo with cash. In a few months after the divorce, when we could establish and show proof of the alimony, I would get her a cash out mortgage.


In another instance, a man wanted to keep the house but had to give his ex-wife money as part of the settlement. We refinanced his home and got a separate line of credit, which had to close after the first loan is in place, to satisfy her demands.

Yet in another one, a divorced woman, who wanted to keep her house until her children were grown, but was not qualified on her own. We found a solution by having a friend offer to co-sign for her mortgage. The problem was that he had not filed his taxes since 2009. We have to wait until he brought his affairs into order.

Co-signing, which I describe in detail in my forth-coming book “Mortgage Solutions for Smart People: 5 Easy Ways to Get Your Loan Approved,” can help in certain situations, but not always.

Since Mother Earth is so generous with us by giving us so many flowers, why limit Mother’s Day to one day a year?



As you can see from my images from Cuba, there is nothing more powerful in the world as the love of a mother.


I will start teaching a course “How to Play The Mortgage Game and Win” on Sunday, June 2nd. If you know someone who wants to get into the exciting mortgage world, please let me know.


Best Wishes,


Where Are Sales People Born?

“To sell or not to sell–is not the question. We all do. The question is what? And what is our reward?


Walking through the streets of Havana, we noticed that many doorways of the dilapidated buildings were converted into stores during the day. Some sold clothing, but many offered plumbing and home supplies. The sellers were mostly young people, who became entrepreneurs after the Cuban government gave them permits to run their own business. The older people sold their wares on the streets. This reminded me of images of the emigrantsfrom Eastern Europe, who came to the shores of America at the beginning of the last century. You might have seen their photos or movies showing life in New York during those years.


Who taught these people to sell?

Zig Ziglar, a popular motivational teacher who recently died, remarked that there was never an announcement made in the newspaper that the salesman was born.

I thought about this when on my visit to Costco, I met my old friend Joe Farsight. He owns an engineering and construction company located on Treasure Island. Joe’s children work in the company primarily in design and management positions.

“But who is getting the business? Who is selling?” I asked.

Joe smiled to me.

“Who do you think it is?” he asked.

“The young generation,” he added, “They think that the sale happens by itself if you have the right product.”


In my past life, I was an engineer and a project manager. I never had to “sell”. After getting into the mortgage business 30 years ago, I quickly realized that I am in the selling business and had to learn how to sell–I took many courses, read books, and basically learned by trial and error.

Today I do not have to sell, but I do by telling many of my sale stories. You can read some of them in “The Mortgage Game: The 5 C’s and How to Connect Them” and read more in the forthcoming “Mortgage Solutions for Smart People: 5 Easy Ways to Get a Loan”.

Selling is not a profession, but rather a skill which needs to be developed. We learn how to sell from early childhood. Those who have children know it firsthand. A friend of mine told me that his son, who is three, would hug his legs and sweetly say, “You are the best dad”, and then innocently ask for some game he just saw advertized on TV. I do not think that this boy will have difficultly learning how to sell later on in life.

For me–selling is serving. Through the years, I taught many people how to become mortgage brokers, but never knew who would make it and why. Knowledge of the product is essential. In the mortgage business, it is the essence of the 5 C’s. But there has to be something else. I think it is love of people, desire to help, optimism, drive, and constant learning. Different people accomplish results different ways. We have twelve agents between two companies and each has a different style, but all the elements have to be there to become good at selling.


After finishing my second book, “Mortgage Solutions for Smart People: 5 Easy Ways to Get a Loan”, I decided to create a course based on both books. The goal is to teach a new generation how to become mortgage professionals and (if I am lucky) how to sell. The title of the course is–“How to Play and Win the Mortgage Game”. I will teach four consecutive Sundays in June from 12 to 4pm. You might know someone who has worked in the mortgage industry before, or  if he/she would like to learn it, please ask this person to contact me. Interested parties would need a real estate / corporate license, or be willing to obtain one.

The mortgage business is still going through challenges. At the same time, for me and my colleagues who have been in the business for many years, it is enjoyable and a financially rewarding opportunity.


I recently met with Helen Chao–Recruitment Consultant. She summarized qualities of sales professionals.

  1. Intense confidence in themselves
  2. In the moment they put their mind on something, they know it is going to happen
  3. Connect both ends of the deal, while thinking about the bottom line
  4. Manage emotions in negotiations
  5. Friendly personalities
  6. Care about clients
  7. Scout the opportunities
  8. Think differently
  9. Care about money
  10. Have return business


Talking about my trip to Cuba…Are you joining us in December?


Best Wishes,


How to Look at a Tree…and at a Mortgage

“The small seed, from each mighty tree is grown, contains the memory of every tree which came before it–so are people.



A group of blind people were brought to the zoo to “take a look” at an elephant. Each of them would touch different parts of the elephant and then describe what they felt. One, who touched a tail, claimed that the elephant “looked” like a rope. One, who touched the trunk, thought the elephant was like a pipe. One, who held a foot, claimed that the elephant was like an electrical pole.I thought about this story on our recent trip to Big Sur, where we took a photo workshop with Eddie Soloway, a great photographer, whom we met on our trip to Cuba and whose poetic images led my wife Elfa to decide to take his weekend class, as her birthday (April 17th) present. There was a group of 14 very talented photographers (each showed samples of their work). Our lessons consisted of “child-like” exercises and trips to photograph images in nature. One of the exercises was to look at the mighty cypress tree growing next to our classroom, which was located on the site of the Big Sur Lodge. Eddie had given us small paper frames, and placed us in different positions, where we were told to share two words about the images we saw in our frames. After I finished my assignment, I went around and took different shots. One was through a double plastic cover of a laundry delivery vehicle parked nearby. Another was a group shot. I came back in the evening and photographed a tree, without my tripod, to capture a mysterious image in the dark.
On Sunday morning, our last day, I came to the tree, touched it, and said “Thank you” and “Good-bye”. At that moment, I could see a part of the bark with its’ beautiful colors. It was the tree’s present to me and now to you. Since most of what I do brings my thoughts back to mortgages, below you will find some of the images with the mortgage story:


Clients’ circumstances are veiled and hidden and sometimes it is difficult to see the tree (a mortgage), but I know it is there.


At the beginning, it can look fuzzy and mysterious, but there is always some light.




Some parts and documents that the borrowers present might be unusually colored, or be covered with cobwebs.




A team of different experts and mortgage professionals will take a careful look at the mortgage.


Finally a beautiful tree (mortgage) will appear in its full glory.



One weekends, I often walk downhill from my house to the West Portal library. Last time I visited the library, the book displayed on the table in front of me was “The World of Trees” by Hugh Johnson. It is a great book from which you can learn a lot about trees. If you are interested in photography, Eddie Soloway will teach two workshops this summer at the Santa Fe Photo Workshop.


In response for last week’s TIC story, one of our clients responded:

“Our story was even better than that, and, the only correction I would make to your prenuptial metaphor is as follows:

          “TIC is like marriage except, it is a group one with multiple wives and multiple husbands. Untangling that equates to a divorce court in which you can only get the divorce if all ex-spouses find a new partner…


Best Wishes,

Manny<br /><br />

Warning TIC–Proceed with Caution

“Neighbors do not have to be friends…and vice versa

While in Sedona, we visited Jerome, an old mining town. We drove through it to the end of the road that ended at a Ghost Town. This place and the junkyard that people pay money to visit belong to an incredible man, Don Robertson. Some of the images I took there reminded me of the TIC loan process.


At the beginning everyone minds their own business and lives in peace with one another.


For those who have never heard of a TIC (sometimes called “tick”) it stands for “Tenancy in Common”. It is a type of real estate ownership that was quite popular a few years ago. It is used to buy a property consisting of 2 to 4 units (and even more in rare cases). The cost of each TIC unit is usually less than compatible to condominium units. Those who own such buildings have figured out that the combined value of the TIC is greater than the cost of a regular 2-4 unit rental property.


Until one person with a strong Character starts setting his own rules.


The lending for these properties has evolved through the years. A few years ago, there were three portfolio lenders who could offer TIC loans. (Now there is only one left.) The potential advantage for an owner of a TIC is to convert the building into condominiums, which would increase the value of each unit. Some real estate agents have refused to deal with TIC’s because of the complications involved and I have personally never liked to arrange loans for them. The reasons were very simple. In our times when so few people stay married to just one person, getting into a TIC is similar to getting married to many different people (as many units in the building)–often to complete strangers. The building maintenance has to be shared, without any real arrangements, like HOA dues in a condo building. But the worst situation is when one of the partners wants to get out. The unit can only be sold as a TIC, with very limited finance options. And who needs another stranger as a partner?


Some couples simply don’t agree with each other.


The real nightmare actually starts when the building wins the lottery and can be converted into a condominium. Conversions require certain changes in the building which costs money. And when everything is done, each owner would like to have their own low interest mortgage (TIC loans have higher interest rates).

The bank that has suffered through tough years has to sort out their own old junk and have difficulty to issue new loans.

I was recently asked to help a client who lives in a 4 unit TIC, which was recently converted into four condominiums. (One of the conditions is that all of the refinance transactions have to close simultaneously to pay off the existing loans.) She is a self-employed borrower and has a relatively small mortgage. She applied with a number of lenders and was turned down before coming to me. I found out that I could help her, but it had to be done in conjunction with the other TIC partners. In the second unit, the owners received a loan approval from a lender. Because other units are not ready, the loan commitment expired, and they have to start all over again. The third unit is for sale. The sale financing on this unit depends on what is happening with the other three units. On top of all this, the owner of the fourth unit does not want to communicate with anyone in the building. At the end, everything will work out, but who needs all of this hassle? If you know someone who needs help with their TIC, I might be the right person.


Before getting married, couples are advised to get a prenuptial agreement. It can be a good idea to have similar arrangements for a TIC or any situation where two (or more) parties are involved. Vivian Holley, who is a very experienced attorney, can help in any of these cases. She can be reached at 415-474-1011 /


Best Wishes,

Manny<br />