Cuba, Cars, and Mortgages


“The slower you drive, the farther you get.”–Russian Proverb


Last week, I wrote about life in Cuba, which as I’ve noted, is “complicated”, as well as how getting loan approval in the U.S. can be complicated as well. By law, Cubans cannot buy a new car, or have a mortgage. There is a shortage of housing, and many people in Havana live in challenging conditions. Many families share old, beautiful, but dilapidated buildings, each occupying one room with very few amenities. This reminds me of the way we lived in Riga, Latvia during the former Soviet Union.

The majority of people work for government owned enterprises and are paid in local currency, the National Peso, which they can use in stores with limited supplies and empty shelves. There is also the Convertible Peso, known as the CUC and commonly referred to as “kooks, to tourists. The US Treasury department doesn’t allow Americans to buy anything in Cuba, but tourists from other countries do not have these restrictions. There are better stores, which sell products and merchandise in CUC, which are also used by foreigners in the hotels and restaurants. There are 24 pesos to a CUC. Our travel guide told us that her monthly salary is enough to buy food for a week. Thanks to the tips that she receives in CUCs, she can afford more.

Cubans also get subsidized vouchers for special rationing stores which exchange vouchers for meat, fish, and bags of rice. Hugo Shaves, president of Venezuela, who is currently hospitalized in Cuba, is considered a friend and benefactor. I photographed his poster in one of those stores. There is also a popular barter system. A ballpoint pen that a person might receive as a gift from a tourist, can be exchanged for something else, and after a number of transactions, that person might end up as a piece of chicken for dinner.


On the streets of Havana, one can see many newer cars that are owned by various government agencies, each with differently colored license plates to distinguish who is who, as well as old American ones, some in very good condition. Those cars are privately owned since they were purchased before 1959. They have yellow license plates and often serve as taxis. To get around, Cubans and tourists can hire a two-seater motorcar or rickshaw-like bicycles. The problem with owning a car in Cuba is the same as it was in the former Soviet Union–the lack of spare parts. In my book, “The Mortgage Game: The 5 C’s and How to Connect Them”, I wrote that car owners in the Soviet Union, as well as home owners in the US have two joys in their life–when they get a new car/mortgage and when they get rid of it.

Cubans are very clever at fixing those old beauties with parts from other cars. Cuban life can be really complicated. Seeing their challenges brings to mind the saying “One cries for the lack of shoes, until meeting the person who does not have legs.” If next time you want to complain about anything in your life, just find a group traveling to Cuba.


American car owners might have different problems. In my new e-book that I am currently writing, titled “Mortgage Solutions for Smart People: 5 Simple Ways to Get Your Loan”, I discuss an issue of how to lower high qualifying ratios.

Car payments, like student loans and mortgages are called installment debts and are part of the second qualifying ratio, and in most cases cannot exceed 45% of one’s income, which also includes other obligations resolving debts like credit card payments. What most borrowers do not realize, is that if the ratio is over 45%, the loan request is going to be declined. In my book, I offer different ways on how to improve the chances and at the loan approval, steps to eliminate a lot of unnecessary headaches. One piece of advice that I give–never co-sign for other people’s car loans, unless you are willing to make the monthly payments yourself. One of my clients learned this lesson the hard way. After the son of his girlfriend to whom he helped buy a car, missed two payments, my client’s credit score dropped over 50 points and I could not help him lower monthly payments by $250. Car owners’ life in the United States can be complicated as well.


Before my trip to Cuba, a friend asked me to photograph American cars on my trip. You can see some of them in this email. Since I do not photograph objects but life on the street, these images might give you an additional view of Havana. When I have time to put together a website dedicated to Cuba, you will be able to see more images including more cars.





A few days ago, we received the Smithsonian Travel Magazine in the mail. They offer many great trips including a new one to Cuba. We met tourists at our hotel who were visiting Havana on a National Geographic Tour. Our trip through the Santa Fe Photographic Workshop was the best way to travel to Cuba for those interested in photography. (The one in April is sold-out.) The cost of those three companies (including a flight from Miami, FL) varies between about $4,000 to $6,500 per person.

After browsing through the Smithsonian magazine, my wife Elfa, asked me if I want to go to Cuba again and I immediately said, “Yes!”, but it is pricey.  I also remembered about the website talking about Cuba and jazz trips. On the web, I found, an organization located in Vancouver, Canada that offers “Cuba Educational Tours” and has many monthly trips including one for 9 days on December 15-23, as part of the Havana Jazz Festival. The cost (including air fare from Cancun, Mexico) can be about $2,100 per person. Check out

We Are Going.

I joined their Club Cubano and for each referred guest, they offer $150 discount. After 10 of my friends will join, my daughter can come for free. When we will have a group of 25, we can have our own bus and travel together. Are you joining us?



Best Wishes,

Manny<br />

What Cuba and The Mortgage Business Have in Common

“I am not a has-been. I am a will be.”–Lauren Becall


I am writing this newsletter at the airport in Havana, Cuba. We spent one week here on the “People to People cultural exchange trip” organized by The Santa Fe Photographic Workshops. I’ve taken classes with them before, but this was a different experience.

A group of about 25 Americans, amateur photographers, traveled to Cuba to meet local people, experience life in a country which has a U.S. embargo since 1960, and to interact with local photographers. Usually after any trip, travelers asked if they would come back.

For me, the answer is a definite “YES”.

We met some of the participants who’ve been back every year. One woman in the group was there on her sixth trip to Cuba. Because of the embargo, American visitors can only visit in organized groups under a special one-year license issued by the Treasury department; unless one wants to violate laws and sneak in through Mexico or Canada. Because each airline has to report each passenger, the fines can become costly if one gets caught. Because the rest of the world does not have any restrictions for travels to Cuba, our hotel was filled with tourists from all over the world.

I can write a book about my impressions, thoughts, and feelings about Cuba, and share photos out of about 4500 images that I took there. But for the sake of the brevity of this email, I will just stick to a few stories, which I will spread out in some of my next week’s writing.

Before going on the trip, we received a letter describing what we can bring along. We were also advised to have presents to give away on the streets while taking photos, and to leave some old clothing in the hotel after our departure. We collected soaps brought from other trips; tooth brushes received from visits to the dentist, bought crayons, and grabbed extra lollipops from the neighborhood bank.Phil Wiseman contributed over 20 pens left over from his clients. At the end, we had a substantial bag with the stuff.

Our first story started in the San Francisco airport. My suitcase was two pounds overweight, which would have cost an extra $100 to check on, in addition to the $25 charge. So, I took the gift bag out and stuffed it into my camera bag, which thankfully solved the problem.

The group met and stayed in Miami for one night before our trip, where we received an overview of our itinerary and some instructions on how to manage our stay. This is where we heard the words of wisdom from our trip leader.

Remember he said, “It is Cuba. It is complicated.”

After only a few days in Havana, while encountering a glimpse of local life, it suddenly dawned on me. The only way to explain what is going on in my business is just to say, “It is the Mortgage business. It is complicated.” It also seems that the complication is due to the fact that the government for “the benefit” of the people controls Cuba as well as the Mortgage business. Cubans do not have a choice…do we?


At the end of our trip, a group of us got together to talk about what was the biggest impression from the trip, and everyone had the same answer–the people: friendly, beautiful, and very poor. Some asked for a dollar after posing for a photograph and after receiving a small gift, were very grateful. Many spoke in English and after finding out that we were from San Francisco, California, would happily exclaim, “America!” and showed thumbs up. They would add “We love you!”


Cuba’s history is full of complicated events. From 1790 to 1880, it was a distribution center for the slave trade to America. Havana was a cultural center and has a lot of beautiful buildings, most of which are now dilapidated.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which according to our travel guide was “breast feeding” Cubans, by subsidizing the sugar cane trade, there was literally a famine for four years. Today, Cuba’s economy depends on tourism and help from Venezuela. Cuba has oil refineries, which process Venezuelan oil, Canadians built an airport in Havana, with high-end hotels and restaurants owned jointly by the Cuban government and business men from Spain. China supplies Cuba with many products, including cars and there are 2500 Chinese who study Spanish in Cuba. Cuba and the United States are only 90 miles and a 45-minute flight apart. Through the years, many Cubans have managed to cross over. I believe that soon more people from the United States will be able to go the other direction without restrictions.



Next week, I will share with you more of my encounters in Cuba and why there are so many old American cars over there. At the end of our trip, I had to choose four of my images for the group show. It was challenging to choose from all of the snaps that I took. Here they are. You be the judge, and please let me know your impressions.


While I was travelling, my office staff was finding solutions and closing loans for my clients. Upon my return, I was very happy to set up an appointment with a new client the first day back in the office.


Best Wishes,


I Love You

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”–Lao Tzu

Next week on February 14th, widely known as Valentine’s Day, is the busiest day of the year for the flower business. It seems that everyone suddenly remembers that there are people in our lives to whom we can express our love. What about the rest of the year?

Flowers grow year-round and candies come in forms other than heart-shaped red boxes. When I grew up in Riga, Latvia, we celebrated “Women’s Day” on March 8th. I remember being about 7 or 8 years young when I saved up 3 rubles, which was enough to buy my mom a chocolate bar (of my favorite brand of course) as an expression of my love.


Now that I’m a little bit older, I feel that every time I help someone get a new mortgage and save them a lot of money, or help someone move into their new home, is the greatest expression of my love to people with whom I rarely have the opportunity to be together with. I do not want to wait for the exact day on the calendar–I’m telling you today, “I LOVE YOU.”

My daughter, Tamar, who edits all my writing suggested to include“10 Things You Might Know About Love” article to this week’s newsletter.


In our culture, the word “love” is widely used. Brian Weiss wrote a very interesting book, “Only Love is Real”. This is actually a sequel to his first book, “Many Lives Many Masters”, which describes his encounters with reincarnation.

I am currently reading a book by Dr. Joe Vitale and Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len titled “Zero Limits: The Hawaiian System for Wealth, Health, and More”. It describes an experience of Dr. Hew Len curing insane criminals by the process of cleansing and utilizing the words “Thank you, I am sorry, please forgive me, I love you”. In Hawaiian, this process is called “ho’oponopono”. One needs to read the book to realize the power of those four phrases. But just saying, “I love you”, to people you are surrounded by, can change the world.



I am back from Cuba and will give you a report next week. Meanwhile, I am giving my roses to you together with my love. Like people, all flowers are different. And like people, a little touch of love can create different feelings.


If you want to give someone a special gift or a nice flower arrangement, please call my friend Phil Wiseman from UPP. He is very creative and can satisfy any budget. He can be reached at (415) 817-1057. If your friends feel that they cannot afford his services, it means that they need to refinance their mortgage to free extra money to say, “I Love You” to someone very special. For a sample, please make sure to check out his specials here or visit his website for more information.

(click to enlarge)


Best Wishes,



You Exceeded My Expectations

“If you paint in your mind a picture of bright and happy expectations, you put yourself into a condition conducive to your goal.”–Norman Vincent Peale


Last week, I wrote about the challenges of getting loans for non-owner occupied investment properties. But as always, there is light within the darkness. Somehow, we can always find creative solutions.

Dr. Dan is a dentist who was referred to me by my friend who is his patient. He came to my office very well prepared with all the necessary documents.  His middle credit score was 815 (this is excellent) and he has a good income. Besides his own residence, he owns a second home and two rental properties. He is a typical middle class professional, who can easily handle his mortgage payments.

His objective was to lower his monthly payments by about $300/month. First I showed him that he can get savings of about $370/month, just by getting a 3.50% fixed rate loan with no out of pocket closing costs for his home. He was very happy, but I suggested taking a look at his other properties. At the beginning, he was reluctant. But after I compared myself to a good dentist, who not only fixes one tooth, but also examines the whole mouth, he accepted my suggestions.

After reviewing the monthly payments on all of his properties, I offered to increase his loan amount on his house to $417,000 and get a cash-out of about $120,000. Then I suggested refinancing his rental property with the maximum of $50,000 cash out limited to 75% loan to value. After that, he would combine both amounts and pay off a loan of $165,000 on his second home. As a result, this mortgage payment on his residence would only be $200/month higher, but his rental property would be $100/month lower. After paying off the mortgage on his second home, it would be free and clear with an overall savings of about $1200/month. If he would apply this amount to the mortgage payment, he could have his own home free and clear after 14 years.

Dan’s response was, “You exceeded my expectations.”

As it happened on the same day, one of our new agents brought a loan where the client wanted to refinance a $130,000 loan. He owned six properties, which created a limitation (only a few lenders can lend up to 10 properties).

When I analyzed his entire portfolio, I offered a completely different approach–to consolidate all the mortgages into two. One for the owner occupied home for $417,000 at 3.500% and another for $230,000 for his single-family rental property at 3. 75%. By doing that, four properties will not have any mortgage and the overall savings on the monthly payments would be $1,413.

How impressive is that?


By the time you read this email, I will be in Havana, Cuba with my wife and a group of photographers. To improve my photographic skills, every year I take a week off to attend different photo workshops. This year will be a completely different experience.

Americans can go to Cuba on a cultural exchange or through other countries, and this will be my first trip there.  So far, most of the images I have shared with you were without people, and I’ve mentioned that I do not specialize in any particular photographic field. This is only partially true; I love to photograph people, and not only when I travel. As a matter of fact, my photo exhibition titled “French Baguette” is still on the walls of the restaurant Chouchou. You can see more of my older images

The images you see today were taken recently in the Britex fabric store in San Francisco, when I accompanied my wife to buy some fabric.

Please let me know which one is your favorite. You will see images from Cuba upon my return.




Special thanks to Douglas Davis (pictured above) and the rest atBritex Fabric. Please make sure to visit Britex!


Best Wishes,