Thursday, December 31, 2009

The beginning of a new road

For me, the end of a year is not a time to look back, it's time to look forward. Of course, none of us really knows all that the future (short and long term) hold in store for us. But then there's the idea that we can sculpt our own future to the degree that we choose. Only a few years ago I learned that writing down ones goals for the year (or for any period of time) is more powerful than simply thinking about them. I've been working on my 2010 goals and while I want to make them achievable I also want them to be things that require focus, perseverance, fun and some reach.

In addition to RCA's stats showing increased volume of transactions, there are some other signs of life in our industry. I've gotten more calls from recruiters in the past month than I had through most of 2009. People are hiring again; getting ready for the next cycle or adding people with specialized talent to augment their existing capabilities.

Serendipity Strikes Again: On a recent flight from Montreal to New York I sat next to Vanessa James who with her partner, Yannick Boheur were just named to the French Winter Olympic Figure Skating Team. She's a really nice kid and a beautiful skater. Now I have a reason to watch those games and root for them!

2009 was a challenging year for many of us (dare I say most or all of us?) and while every year offers it's own challenges, this particular one that ends today will probably be remembered mostly as the year we wanted to see end.  But, there were also some special things:  my Dad getting reunited with the WWII plane with which he had a life-long love affair, my grandson Sean being born, my finding support from you guys (and other friends) as my father passed away and simply the joy of being alive and being able to look forward to and make plans for the next year.  We've all had our smiles and tears; after all, that's life.  But as we watch the full moon tonight and raise our glasses to bring in the New Year, I want so share with you something I took from the book, "All I Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten": 

No matter how old you are-when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

 Cheers and Happy New Year!

Photo:  (l) TimeWarner Center, New York (r) Sean Felix: On the Road

On the road.....

Jan. 4:  Menlo Park, CA
Jan. 13-15:  Laguna Beach, CA to attend and moderate a session at IMN's Seventh Annual Winter Forum On Real Estate Opportunity & Private Fund Investing
Jan. 20-22:  Boston and Connecticut
Jan. 25-26:  Philadelphia and other Pennsylvania spots
Feb. 9-11:  Rancho Palos Verdes, CA to attend IREI's VIP Conference
Feb. 18-19:  Chapel Hill, NC to attend and be a judge at the UNC Annual Real Estate Conference and Kenan-Flagler Real Estate Challenge
Mar. 24-25:  Boston to attend the PREA Spring Conference
Mar. 25-26:  London to moderate a panel at IMN's European Distressed Real Estate Symposium
Apr. 14:  Dallas to attend the UBS Investor Conference

These are my views and not that of my employer.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The end of the road: 2009

With the kind permission of RCA here is their 'executive summary' of their Global Capital Trends report which was just published today:

Calling the Bottom and Looking Forward to 2010
If there is only one thing for sure, it is that everybody in the commercial real estate industry in the US is looking forward to 2010. Although the industry and the overall economy still face an array of hurdles ahead and no one is giddy with optimism, the year is starting with more clarity and a lot less fear than 2009. Some very positive events just in the past 60 days have helped bolster the spirits of many industry players:
 Transaction activity is increasing
 REITs have been able to de-lever quickly and enjoy unique access to capital
 Foreign buyers are hungry for US assets, particularly since prices in Asia and Europe are already rising
 A reported $75b or more of equity has been raised by opportunistic funds and very little of that has been deployed
 The credit crunch is starting to ease and financing for quality assets and larger properties is becoming more available
 The CMBS market is starting to thaw, with several successful single-borrower issues completed since mid-November
 Fundamentals remain poor and are expected to stay that way in 2010, but the market, expecting the worst, has already priced in the poor operating outlook.
 Bank regulators announced new guidance that could greatly reduce mass defaults and asset sales previously anticipated by the tsunami of upcoming loan maturities

Taken together, these factors point to a 2010 investment market that moves decisively forward. Operating fundamentals, banking uncertainties and political realities in the US and around the globe will all play a hand in keeping the trajectory of the improving market from being too steep over the near term. Farther out, the overhang of so many extended and restructured mortgages also clouds the future. But for now, broad investor sentiment in the US is clearly turning an important corner as the new year approaches.

Lessons Learned from Ted Leary, Crosswater Realty Advisors

( in no particular order)

1. Co-investment by a manager does NOT necessarily produce better performance

2. When you underwrite an Allocator, you need to understand their ability to underwrite & manage Operators.

3. Alignments of interest structures often dissolve and even reverse when markets go bad.

4. Bigger is often “Badder” when AUM reaches the tipping point where AUM revenue is more important to the Manager than performance based revenue.

5. Investors need to keep a close and continual watch on their investments – even in discretionary funds. “Trust, but Verify!”

6. Investors need to have a “Voice and even a Vote” in higher yield/risk strategies

7. If a Manager can’t readily & easily describe its “risk management” process, it doesn’t have one.

8. Beware of Managers who want to go “outside their box”.

9. Leverage doesn’t make an investment a better investment – it simply increases the potential rewards and risks of that investment.

10. “Global real estate expertise” is an oxymoron.

Bonus Lesson: If you want to discover whether a Manager is a “fiduciary” you need to look into their corporate “soul”, not just their numbers.

I've met with a number of people in the past year. Some who are experienced but out of work and others who are coming out of an MBA program and are looking to get into or back into the real estate industry. And on the subject of careers, last week I Googled Nori Gerardo Lietz of Partners Group to find her phone number. What I found in addition was a commencement address she gave to the Fall 2005 graduating class of the MIT Center for Real Estate. I found some of her comments particularly poignant as they resembled some of the things I have both believed in for myself and have counseled others on as well. I'd like to share these passages with you:

"As you evaluate career opportunities think about risk. Don’t accept the conventional wisdom of what are the “safe” jobs. The seemingly safest position today may actually far riskier than might be perceived by the “herd” mentality. What may be perceived as a “safe” job today, may not even exist in 10 years. Think of all the people who went to work for large financial institutions thinking they had a great career path in front of them and were merged out of a job. I’m not trying to be a pessimist, I’m suggesting that you try to identify ALL the potential risk factors and assign probabilities to them occurring.......

Don’t underestimate the importance of serendipity. Seemingly unimportant or random events can have profound impacts so you need to be open to them. I truly believe you have to be open to those serendipitous moments and go with your gut instincts just at that moment. These serendipitous moments can occur in a conversation, a chance meeting or the exchange of ideas that may at the time seem unimportant.......

Lastly, and I think most importantly, expect the unexpected from yourselves. Take risks. Risk is not a bad thing if you understand the risks you’re taking. Take the job opportunity in a place you never dreamed you go. Go to India. Go to Brazil. Go to China. Do something scary: take the assignment that you know absolutely nothing about, and neither does anyone else, and master it. Figure out how to become indispensable in the company for which you work. That’s the ultimate job security and risk mitigation. Become an entrepreneur. I started PCA when I was 31. I asked myself at the time, what’s the worst thing that could happen? The company might fail. That didn’t that mean I’d be a failure. I’d find another job. So can you. Push yourself to a place farther than you ever thought you could go.

Expect the unexpected from yourself and you never know what might happen."

So with that, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy and Healthy New Year. We've all been through a tough year and it's likely that things are not going to change from gray to blue overnight as the we turn the calendar to January 1. But we can change our attitude about things and "Push ourselves to a place farther than we ever thought we could go". And, as always, I appreciate your support of this weekly column. Thanks a lot.

These are my views and not that of my employer.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Probitas Partners published an excellent white paper this week, "Real Estate Private Equity Fund Investing: Profound Changes for the Road Ahead." These are the primary trends they see:

• The real estate sector has not yet reached bottom and will not until perhaps late 2010 or early 2011, with capital markets “normalcy” returning perhaps by 2013.

• No new development will materialize in the foreseeable future.

• New acquisitions will occur at discounts to replacement cost, many at deep discounts depending on the physical condition of the assets and leasing.

• The downturn will be significantly deeper and worse than the 1980s/Resolution Trust Corporation (“RTC”) crisis; many fund sponsors will restructure or disappear. And like the RTC era, successful groups will persist and new groups will emerge, with some of the most successful teams taking full advantage of these market dislocations.

• Investors will return to an emphasis on fundamentals and a focus on operational expertise; initial strategies will include debt repurchases, asset rehabilitations, releasing, debt restructuring, acquisition of fund interests or general partnerships, etc.

• There will be attractive investment opportunities — in direct investments and secondaries —
but investors will need to focus on fundamental asset valuations and stable teams capable of executing on operational business plans to achieve the return potential, since this will take some time.

Another piece just published is in the current issue of "RICS Property World" magazine, Marc Louargand, of Saltash Partners writes in an article titled, "Are We There Yet?":

  • The outlook for the near term is not better.
  • We will again have a flat bottom for an extended period as we enter a period of mixed results.
  • It could take as many as five years to regain the jobs lost to date.
Falling Cap Rate Scenario or Rising Cap Rate Scenario?

"It will likely be both. Persistent high cap rates for a period of at least 12 to 24 months, followed by cap rates falling on a relative basis to Treasuries. The initial phase of recovery will see few if any jobs created, thus investors will lack confidence that they will be able to fill empty space in the short run so that they will rely on in-place revenue and be subject to reduced leverage opportunities. At some point, however, the massive liquidity created by stimulus packages around the world will escape the liquidity trap and inflation will come roaring back. Monetary policy response will lead to higher reference rates from central bank actions or from investor pricing....So, after a period of persistently high cap rates investors will come back into the market in sufficient volume to put downward pressure on cap rates and force them to price inflation into their expectations rather than into the cap rate."

This kind of stuff definitely gives us food for thought but as with all input, it's up to us to absorb, ponder, inquire and come to our own conclusions. For the past 18 months or so, a number of long-term real estate investors have just decided to sit on the sidelines rather than venture out in uncharted waters. My question is: Will the sea be any calmer or more predictable in 2010 than it has been and who really knows the answer?

From what I hear, debt is back, in a big way. But then again, competition for 'good' properties has heated up also. Hmmmm. Are we back to 'things as usual?' Not quite and maybe not for a long time. Don't forget that the key to income producing real estate is.....income. And the way it looks, it's getting harder and harder to keep properties fully leased (or even leased enough to generate any cash flow). I don't think anyone really knows how things are going to begin shaking out in 2010 but I'm hearing from too many institutional investors that they can see themselves pretty much sitting on the sidelines through 2010 and are talking about 2011 as being the year they get back into new allocations to real estate. Having said that I also believe that there's still a lot of investors who are unhappy with how the managers of commingled funds have handled themselves and are looking at that structure with very critical eyes going forward. It seems that there may be more interest from investors in club deals (where they feel they will have more say at the table aka more control) or one-off transactions.

We have all paid tolls to cross bridges or go through tunnels. It could take us from one part of a city to another, across state lines or from one country to another. Tolls (apologies to the infrastructure investment community) don't go down: they go up, sometimes, as New Jersey did with it's Garden State Parkway and Turnpike, dramatically. And, while sometimes we pay tolls to go to and from work or school, or on holiday, the fact is is that there is always a price to pay to get from here to there. But, "there" may be a new job, a girlfriend, a new home. Or it could be that we are taking the bridge or tunnel to get away from our past or a life that has changed for the worse. Taking flight does not always involve boarding an airplane and today, in the United States, there are a lot of people who have run or are ready to run to the nearest bridge and tunnel and hope that there's something better on the other side. Even in our industry, with all the talk about hoping that 2009 would end so that we can get cross that bridge to 2010 when things will be 'back to normal' is popular talk. But I am here to report (sounds official doesn't it) that things in the institutional real estate world have and are changing right before our very eyes. And the changes are not minor nor are they temporary (whatever that means). Some investment management firms will disappear. Others will merge. Investors will be much slower to come back to the game than we'd all like to think and when they do they will be talking a different talk than before. Sometimes tolls require small change and those tolls are easier for us to accept but others, perhaps most tolls, require big change and those tolls cause us to mutter, "Whathfok." But change is what life is about and we can either choose to change or be left out in the cold or left behind, choose your saying. Sometimes, in the day to day effort to grab the brass ring or even to meet the goals (some reasonable, others unreasonable) that have been established for us to achieve, we do not take time to step back to actually see what is going on. But some folks that I speak to are big picture people and when you combine that attribute with them having been around the industry for a while it's worth listening and learning from them because even though the bridge we're all crossing may look like a bridge we're familiar with, it's a lot different.

Last week I had a real treat. A joined a group of friends from Real Capital Analytics to go see "Memphis" on Broadway. Charlie Williams, son of Steve Williams of RCA is in the show. First of all, the show is really fun. But it was especially special to see Charlie, dancing, singing and simply having the time of his life on that stage in front of a sold-out house. The proudness and joy that his Dad felt was something we could all feel as well. Your son on Broadway: Priceless!

Lots of us say we'd like to write a book. One of our industry friends did just that. Craig Thomas, formerly of Torto Wheaton Research and currently with PNCBank has recently released, "Econosphere." I've read it and really like it. Here's a random comment on the book on Amazon: "As someone who has read his share of economics books, I can tell you that its seldom if ever you can find a book on the subject as well written and entertaining as the Econosphere. Even more rare is a book that can be enjoyed by professional economists and economic newbies alike, but this is it. Craig has a natural gift for explaining complex issues in a clear, concise and engaging manner. Well done!!!" A nice holiday gift (for yourself or someone else) can be found here.

Getaway find of the week: Vacation rental in San Diego (La Jolla), California (72 and sunny all year 'round). Owned by a friend. Very special. Check it out here.

Photo: Rockefeller Center Tree

These are my views and not that of my employer.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

On the Road with Kid Patience

My uncle had a nickname for me when I was very small. "Kid Patience." Now this is not as picturesque a nickname as Kid Gallavin (the boxer), "The Comeback Kid" (John Elway) or even "Kid Rock." But it definitely fit me then and for many years, given that Type A personality shows itself very early on, it was totally appropriate. But with a lot of hard work (which continues), I have discovered the importance of patience and the ability to engage patience in decision making. The tools that Type A rehabilitation offers are healthy ones, designed to help you avoid having a heart attack. But it's not easy to fight off those Type A demons that are trying to drag you into the whirlpool of time urgency, free-floating hostility and the like. Certain events in our lives suggest that action be taken. And most of the time, those instincts are probably right-it's just the 'when and what' that are key to the right decision on action. As the end of the year that most people want to forget rapidly approaches and people start thinking about their plans and goals for next year (I may have told you at some point that this idea of writing down one's goals really makes a difference) perhaps some of us are thinking about what changes we may want to see in our lives, whether it be work related, relationship related, money related, project related or dream related. But take it from "Kid Patience", the brilliant person who coined the phrase "Patience is a virtue" was 'dead-on balls accurate' (I watched part of "My Cousin Vinny" again last night) and "All we need is a little patience' (Guns 'n Roses) when considering important things in our lives.

Last night I attended the only holiday party that I get invited to hosted by Real Capital Analytics. It's really a great cross-section of the commercial real estate community. I got a chance to have some really good talks with JC Goldenstein (, Marty Nass (CT Partners), Ed LaGrassa (Chilton Capital Management), Zoe Hughes (Private Equity Real Estate), Patric Dolan (Reed Midem), Susan Kane (RCA), . I was also introduced to the fellow who is heading up Bloomberg Real Estate (but he didn't have a business card). This is a great time of year and it's like an annual reunion of sorts. Quite a few folks mentioned how sorry they were to hear that my Dad had died and that they had been following that situation through this column. I don't think I've really grasped the enormity of no longer having any parents alive and that I am now the elder statesman of our family. But from what many of you have told me, it takes time (and patience) to get through this type of traumatic event. So thanks again to all of you for your support and good wishes. I appreciate you all very much.

Howard Forman is a friend in Montreal who I have known for the better part of a long time. He is a truly accomplished musician who spent a number of years in the shadows of the hit making machine in Muscle Shoals, Alabama as a highly sought after guitarist sideman. Howard's band, "The Groove Kings" has had some commercial success, particularly in Canada but their recently released CD, "Blood Red" is a 'killer.' Here's the haunting title track, "Blood Red." But the album as a whole is truly worth your time and support (and let's not forget to share this link with others who you know love music).

These are my thoughts and not that of my employer.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

We're all "On the Road" to Somewhere

I heard an interesting speaker this week. She's Henry Kissinger's partner in their consulting business. I asked her a question: "In the past year what questions have your clients asked you that have been surprising?" After complimenting me on it being a good question the first thing she mentioned was that they get calls from their clients when the client has read some news on a wire service (she said there's one in particular that is really bad) and they want Kissinger to tell them if that info is correct. She said that the amount of unreliable (i.e. wrong) information that is floating around on the web and wire services is a bad thing (I agree that responsible journalism of any sort is an oxymoron).

She also talked about the global issue of "food security" (a country having enough food to feed it's population) and about a trend that was news to me of a foreign country buying farmland in another country to grow crops to export back to their homeland. She asked us to visualize how we'd feel about any country buying farmland in Iowa and putting a fence up around it. Clearly the issue of feeding humanity is big and sadly, as it seems it is with many big problems, there's a lot of talk and little action to prevent so many people, especially children from dying each day/week/month/year.

The more I think about it the more I'm sure: life is simply a series of decisions. Of course, when we're young, we don't get to make the decisions ourselves but it's not all that many years into our lives when we do start, if not making them, influencing them. Some are decisions on big things and some on small things although looking back some of the decisions I made on small things ended up having big impact (or consequences as it were) on my life. And throughout our lives, decisions keep putting themselves in front of us, sometimes when we least expect them. I've been thinking about my own decision-making process knowing that I have definitely made some bad ones and hoping to not repeat them. Sometimes I go off and just think, all by myself. Sometimes I will fold a paper in half the long way and make a list of the pros and cons (this actually is a good exercise especially when it's a career related decision). Sometimes I'll speak with people who I trust and who I know care about me. Sometimes I'll reach out to someone who I know has been through a similar situation and ask their advice (or at least have them relate their own experience). But no matter what the process and where you choose to get input (could be from books or a spiritual advisor as well) when it comes down to it, at the end of the day, the decision is yours to make.

Over the years, I've had ideas about things I wanted to do but for one reason or another, at that time in my life, I was not in a position to be able to do them, generally due to responsibilities. But then, as things evolve, or as time goes on, in some ways it seems we have more responsibility to ourselves than to anyone else. You also have to like yourself and make a decision that you have only one life to life and how you do it is up to you. But decisions are not anything these days? And things tend to get complicated (even if you try your best to Simplicate™). Sometimes getting away from things, the proverbial mountaintop, where it's just you and the earth and the sky is the answer. But too often, what seems to happen is that we just put our heads down and keep on with what we've been doing and push the decision off until it's too late or until we just give in and accept our lot in life. I guess it's all a matter of decisions and whether we want to have regrets about not doing something when it really becomes to late. I guess "in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." And it's up to each of us to love and respect ourselves because when the sands run out the only person we can look to and say 'shoulda done this or that' is the person we see every morning in the mirror.

Feedback: Someone wrote me about last week's column suggesting that it was insensitive to follow a paragraph about a friend committing suicide with content about real estate and other stuff as in a matter of fact way. I agree and apologize to anyone else who might have been disturbed by this.

Although I've lived in Napa, CA for more than 10 years I only really know three wine guys personally. They all make good stuff. After a tough year why not treat yourself to something special:

1. Whetstone Wine Cellars ( & Jamey Whetstone

2. Larkin ( Larkin

3. Patz & Hall ( Patz

Photo: Sean Felix's first 'piano.'

Saturday, November 28, 2009

On the Road: California & Stevie D.

Stevie D. died a couple of weeks ago. Unless you've been a regular a The Fillmore in San Francisco in recent years (and even if you have been) you probably don't know Stevie D. I know him because he was my son Brian's roommate for two years when Brian's band OM Trio relocated from Talent, OR to the City by the Bay. They shared what was ambitiously referred to as a one-bedroom apartment in The Mission but the 'bedroom' was actually a closet with no window (which Stevie D had) and Brian slept in a part of the living room. The whole place wasn't any bigger than 1/3 of a NY subway car. But Bri was on the road a lot anyway in those days. Stevie D. was a hard worker who took interesting jobs because he liked them. He was huge into music and was a loyal friend to OM Trio. He was always upbeat and enjoying whatever moment he was in. I saw him over the years at various venues where we had a 'shot' tradition whenever we saw each other. It was always just a question of who was buying. When I heard the news I was frozen. Here's a kid (probably 30ish) who no one had ever seen down or sad and no one believed he was a closet depressed type of guy. No one yet knows if there was ever a history of suicide in his family and no one knows if there were any drugs involved (although he was not known as a user). No one seems to know much other than Stevie took his own life but we don't know if he was in his right mind at the time. Why do these kinds of things happen? He was so happy working The Fillmore. It's very, very sad. I'll be having a shot and toasting Stevie D.'s life. It's all so precious.

Will somebody please tell me what's going on? A friend of mine told me this week that she has tried to buy three properties from three different lenders and none of them have even returned her calls! These are (a) properties that have already been foreclosed on, (b) are in markets where the it will take a month of Sundays for the market to come back and (c) are residential (in a market where there are now and going to be more residential units on the market than there are corn stalks in a Kearney, Nebraska cornfield). So I don't get it. Something seems terribly wrong.

I found an article that gave me a great marketing idea. The article, It’s the Scent That Tickles the Memory, reports that only recently companies have begun assigning smells to everyday products: frangipani-scented sewing threads, tires that smell like roses. A paper soon to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research confirms the wisdom of this tactic, finding that scented products linger in the memory.

“The human memory for smell is very strong, and researchers have known all along that people remember smell. What we’re saying is, it’s not just the smell that people remember. It’s other things associated with the smell: the brand name, or the shape of the product’s box.” Maybe this can work with service marketing as well. So what I'm going to do is decide on a scent that I would like to be associated with. Not something where people will say, "You smell" or worse, "He smells" (or even worse not say something period) but rather something subtle, that doesn't get mentioned but could help me differentiate myself, in a positive way, from others in my field. Of course, the key is what scent will I be? So next time we run into each other, while I won't encourage a sniff test, you may find something about me that will make me unforgettable (for a reason other than some I've been unforgettable about in the past). Pretty interesting isn't it; human senses; human behavior.

Thank you: So many of you sent me beautiful emails about my Dad's death; I can't begin to tell you how much that meant to me. Thank you all for your support.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Manney Felix: May 1, 1917-November 18, 2009

Thank you all for coming today. We're here today to honor the life and pay our last respects to you, Manney Felix of Brooklyn, the Lower East Side, Elmhurst, Forest Hills, Livingston, Lauderhill and Ormond Beach. You were the youngest and last of a family of seven children who are now all gone. You grew up in a very poor family and were a responsible and decent person from the beginning (or at least that's what you've told us!). The siblings for the most part didn't talk much. But about 20 or more years ago you did start talking about your years growing up in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side of Manhattan; about the characters in the neighborhood, your part-time jobs, your decision to enlist, your life and his experiences with your brothers and sisters and for those stories we will forever be grateful as they will be passed down to future Felix generations.

You were a quiet man who lived and died with dignity. You were a brave guy too. Eleanor told me that all through this that you've been through this past month you never once complained, even about things that must have been really uncomfortable. I never in my whole life once heard you boast about yourself. But you were very proud man. You were also proud of and loved your family: your sons, Gregg, Jay and me, your grandsons, Brian, Kevin and David, your daughters in law Claudette and Debbie and your grand-daughters in law, Bridget and Marissa (and soon Leigh). Chris, I know you meant a lot to him and that your relationship grew closer over the years and that he loved you. You were the daughter he had never had . (Eleanor's sons Tom and Greg couldn't be here today but send you their love and condolences)-They knew you always took good care of their Mom.

But there is truly one person who is most responsible for bringing so much happiness and joy into your life, and
who is directly responsible for you living this long and maintaining not only a quality of life but an active one, your wife, Eleanor. She has been your true valentine and your best friend. You guys celebrated your sixth wedding anniversary just this past Saturday. I know you feel very lucky to have found her Dad. Your life would not have been as bright, or full, or long, or fun or full of love without her. Eleanor has also been charitable as she would let you win at Rummy 500 once in a while, just to make you feel good. Those card games that the two of you played religiously, every day in between having your morning grapefruit and your lunch, which you had at high noon are legendary and none of us will ever be able to play Rummy again without thinking of you. No matter how much kidding around about being a "Pain in the ass" there was, we all knew that that was your way of saying, "I love you." Eleanor has said that the years she spent with you, 27 of them, were the best years of her life (although your work as her sales 'assistant' at the flea markets left something to be desired). You were always up for going there with her as you didn't want to be apart from her. You were always a generous man. You never wanted to say 'no' to anything that Eleanor wanted-so she had to be a little careful, as she knew you would have given her the moon and stars if she had asked you to. And, while Eleanor bought all kinds of movies, you really only enjoyed watching the war movies. Jay and I remember growing up and watching "Run Silent, Run Deep" and "God is My Co-Pilot" with you on Million Dollar Movie.

You didn't play a musical instrument except for that little diddy on the piano that you dubbed the "Felix National Anthem." But you loved music and always were either tapping a beat or bopping along with the radio or singing some silly thing about "A Little Place for Hair"-Be bop a do. Also, you also never stood down from anyone. I remember one time in a club in New Brunswick when we were there to listen to Bri's band. We were bellied up at the bar and some jerk started pushing his way in. You took him on and scared the shit out of him. Another time when we were on that RV trip in Arizona and the guy pulled up next to us to yell about us blocking the road and you leaned over Jay and said a few choice words to this guy out the window. He drove away.

There was virtually no talk about emotional or sentimental things in our family. But you were a very sentimental just didn't show it outside. Later in life, you were the only one of your siblings to reconnect with your own brothers and sisters and go visit them -- quietly, on you own, just doing what you felt good about doing and what you felt in your heart was right. The idea of doing what your heart tells you is right is something we will carry forward with us too Dad. In your quiet and unassuming way you were always there, both when you knew we needed you or when you wanted to make sure we were all right.

You were a a hard worker who worked full-time until you were 79 1/2 (Did I get that right Dad?). You're also an example for us that working and keeping active helps you live longer. For more than 55 years you were a professional real estate property manager whose last position was as the General Manager of Olympus in Hallendale Beach, FL. Recently, a man who you had mentored in the field of property management some 55 years ago told me, "Your father came to work every day dressed immaculately and without a hair out of place. He treated everyone with consideration and with respect, no matter what position they were in. I never once heard him raise his voice but he was able to convey what he expected people to do-and they listened." This too epitomizes who were. Your professionalism and diplomacy were major contributors to your ability to remain as the general manager of of Olympus for 14 years-12 years longer than the average 'life' of a condo general manager. You knew the right things to do and were adept at making other people look good. The job at Olympus was also significant because that is where you and Eleanor met.

You always took special care of Gregg -- for too many years to count traveling twice a year to NJ to take Gregg to Atlantic City for weekends of slot machines, shows and the
most popular Felix family pastime ---eating. (Gregg, Daddy loved you and he will always be there for you. He will always be your father. You should know that when you talk to him he will be there to hear you.) And Dad, as Eleanor and Jay and I have told you, we'll always be there for Gregg like you were.

Nadine and Cousin Jeffrey always treated you like you were their own fathers, visiting you and Eleanor and making a point of keeping the Felix Family Connection alive and I know you always liked spending time with them (even though Jeffrey used to pump you for information about the Felix family). Thanks. You guys gave him and Eleanor two of life's most precious commodities-your time and your love.

Dad, you lived a good and full and long life. 92 years and 202 days to be exact. Photos and movies of our early years show that we were a happy family and there was a lot of laughter and good times. There was always laughter when we got together. Like all our lives, yours was not without ups and downs, setbacks, disappointments, starting overs and some mistakes along the way. But you never gave up, on yourself or on all of us. You rebuilt your life when you moved to Florida, literally starting from scratch, although in that move you magically became a much younger man. But, you never looked your real age and that is also part of your legacy-your youthful look and energy. You always loved to drive. We remember some great road trips like the one to Miami Beach in that 1958 Oldsmobile. You and Eleanor traveled to Europe (which you were always ready to talk about as well). You guys traveled to Napa for Bri and Bridget's wedding; to New York for Kevin and Marissa's wedding and just few months ago to New Hampshire for Chris and Josh's wedding. At all these parties you and Eleanor danced multiple times. You were always a smooth dancer. But without Eleanor, your dancing partner, your life partner, you would never have been able to make any of these trips and I know you'd be the first one to agree. You are also one of a small minority of people to live long enough to see a great-grandchild, Sean who as you know is here to see you today.

What will your legacy be? Your love for your family, your unselfishness, your understatedness, your constant support of us and belief in us; your ethic of hard work and loyalty; your energy; your bravery; your youthfulness, your generosity and your sense of humor which you kept until your last moments on earth. We will all remember different things about you as Husband, Dad, Grandpa, Father in Law, Great Grandpa, Uncle, Brother, Son and Friend. From time to time we'll be reminded of things you said or did and we'll smile or shake our heads with affection. When we go to a restaurant and walk up to the hostess and say, "Reservation for FELIX!" or when driving utter, "Jerk" when another driver does something stupid; or answer the phone with, "So what do you want?" These are some of the things that we'll remember. You came to virtually all of Jay's and my baseball games. You came to hear me play music (even in some dive bars) and every time we spoke on the phone asking me, "How is Claudette?" "How is your job?" "How are the boys?" and always at the end telling me, "Thanks for calling, Steve."
We also will remember you as an avid golfer, bowler (and later professional bowling kibbutzer).

But clearly the time that most defined your life was your time in the Army Air Corps. We've all heard you tell the story of 'The Jill' perhaps enough that we could tell it ourselves; even recently when Brian and Kevin and Marissa visited you in the hospital, you asked them, "Did I ever tell you the story of The Jill?" and then proceeded to tell an abbreviated version with the same enthusiasm as always. Eleanor told me that you would tell it to anyone who would listen. Earlier this year you and The Jill were reunited one last time in a cold Smithsonian Museum hanger where, even though you were having difficulty walking, you climbed up a tall ladder, twice, to look inside the cockpit, examine everything and after you came down from the ladder you said, "Yes, that's my Jill." Eleanor says you couldn't stop talking about that day for the last ten months of his life and the story you wrote about your military career and The Jill will always be considered a rare and beautiful family heirloom.

It is totally fitting and right that you are being laid to rest among other veterans who served their country with honor and distinction. You enlisted in the Army shortly after Pearl Harbor because you were angry about America being attacked. You served in World War II in the Army Air Corps, Technical Air Intelligence, 389th Service Squadron, where you were an airplane instrument specialist. Your military geography included Fort Dix, NJ; Jefferson Barracks, MO; Chanute Field, IL; Pendelton, OR; Ephrata, WA; Butte, MT; Alameda, CA. You saw duty in Townsville, Australia; Noemfoor, Dutch East Indies and Leyte and Luzon in the Phillipines. While at Clark Field on the island of Luzon you were assigned to Technical Air Intelligence in charge of aircraft instruments. Your assignment was to make ready and test fly all the captured Japanese planes and send out reports on all the flying characteristics of each airplane. As a reward for your excellent work in supervising the instrument crew, you were made the crew chief on one of the captured planes called The Jill which was to be taken back to Washington, DC. Starting at Alameda Naval Air Base in Oakland, CA, you and pilot Jay Perin (whom my brother Jay is named after) made what was to be a two-day flight to Anacosta Naval Base outside Washington, DC into a two-week adventure that included stops for Jay to visit with his parents for a couple of days, your visit to Hollywood, an air show, a hurricane and an almost-parachuting experience when the hydraulic pump and pump to switch to an alternate fuel tank failed to work properly. The stops in The Jill included Long Beach, CA; San Diego, CA; El Paso, TX; Dallas, TX; Little Rock, AK; Nashville, TN; Cincinnati, OH; Elkins, WV. Most definitely a memorable excursion. You were honorably discharged after spending time in various 'Pacific Theatre' locations where you survived enemy bombings and other types of attacks. You told us a story that the reason you didn't like to drink water was that at one of your bases, perhaps in the Philippines, you had learned that the locals used to piss in the water that ran down to your water supply!

So 'Thanks Dad', thanks for being there for us in some of our darkest moments; thanks for being who you are to all of us individually and for hanging around this long as the final member of a Felix generation now gone, except for the photographs and the memories. Thanks for thinking of the future and buying that little 8mm Revere movie camera with the blinding spotlights when I was born and giving us wonderful, forever lasting documentation of our youth; of learning to swim in the ocean at Silver Point Beach Club; of you teaching us how to play baseball; of family parties around holidays, of many family members, now long gone including my mother, your first wife, Lorna. Thank you for setting a good example. Thank you in so many other ways I can't even remember right now. I do know that we'll be toasting your life later with....yes, bananas and sour cream. But as we say 'goodbye' to you, Manney "The" Felix we're terribly sad; it seemed like you would always be around. But we know that while your body has left us, your soul and spirit are with us today and will be with us forever. Goodbye Dad. You have been an inspiration to us and will be for future Felix generations. We love you. We miss you. And we will think of you often. In your last days we saw you looking up at the sky, perhaps visualizing the trip your soul would soon be taking. One day we look forward to you telling us the story about that flight as well.

Friday, November 13, 2009

On the Road: The 15th Round

I've always loved the early morning and just came back from a short bike ride on my fathers' wife's coaster brake Schwinn where new moon was showing off it's slightest curve and the smoke came off the water in the lakes around the 55-over development where I'm sure I saw at least one new 'For Sale' sign since I left, just this past Monday, which could, as the realtor that has more than 25 listings in this development alone told my brother, be as a result of someone dying and I was thinking of suggesting to the condo association that they ban 'For Sale' signs as it's rather depressing to see all of them, sometimes several houses in a row and isn't the purpose of putting a sign on a house to attract someone driving buy when in this development there are no random drive-bys and everyone knows everyone elses' business or can find out on the bulletin board at the clubhouse. But I'm not here as a consultant to the condo association or for any other matter than to be with my Dad and his wife in his final days. I did go home on Monday and went to the office and it felt good to be there. On Wednesday I did participate in a meeting which may have a significant impact on my career. But yesterday morning at 3:30am I woke up again and realized that the one place I was supposed to be was in Florida and got a reservation and came down last night. I've also canceled a long-planned trip to Europe for next week as I didn't want to be there and get the news ("Oh Boy") and go through all the whatever to get to Florida quickly. I also weighed the need to be in Europe vs. the need to be with my father and there was no contest. When I was with him daily it was hard to determine if he was the same or worse (he just won't get any better any more) from one day to the next. But between Monday and last night it's clear that there has been a change and that as much as he's a fighter he will lose in the final round, at the bell. He is not going to last much longer. The dying process is as advertised. There is not much to do but try to do what we think we should do.

As I mentioned to you last week, I've gotten so many beautiful and supportive notes from people that have meant so much to me. I want to share some of them with you as we're all bound to go, or have gone through, through this experience at one time or another:

1. Spending time with dying parents is kind of like spending time with newborn babies. You have to enjoy the tender and funny moments that you can, and overlook the wet diapers, crying and sleeplessness. Simply being there is, very simply, the most important thing.

I read your post today and it resonated with me. I went through the same decline with my father about five years ago – one where we all knew the outcome. I flew in from London to be with him when my brother said there probably hours left (he didn’t expect I’d make it in time). I arrived on a Friday and was there for four and a half days. On the Tuesday I had to get back, and left in the evening for the overnight flight. My brother called me when I landed to tell me my father had passed while I was on the plane home. To this day I believe completely that he refused to go until I got there, and refused to go until I left. I’ve always been happy with how things worked out.

3. I only saw my father once after he was admitted to the hospice and he died before I could get there when they notified me that he had pneumonia and was not expected to live much longer. I have always regretted not being able to spend more time with him that last month although I often wondered if he knew who I was (Alzheimer's)----most of the time he did, I believe. He often did not remember or know that my mom had died and each time it dawned on him it was like living through it all over again so we quit reminding him of it and if he inquired about her just said she would be back soon. That seemed to satisfy him. I believe in life after death and hope they are happy together again somewhere in the spirit world.

4. Thinking about you this past week. I am glad you have been able to spend this time with your dad. He sounds like a special man and he is lucky to have you during this time. You have clearly made him very happy with your visit, and it is those little things that are important.Your columns have really touched me and I hope they have been therapeutic for you, which it sounds as if they have.

5. I lost my grandfather this summer who was ill for many years. He had one son and four daughters, which my mom was the oldest of all the children. My grandfather liked my mom the most because she was the brightest child. I guess as a parent sometimes it's hard to be impartial when one of your children stands out. Anyway, the night before my grandfather passed away, my mom and my aunts stood up through the whole night in the hospital and when it seemed like he was going to last another day, people went back home at 6:00AM to get some rest and change. My mom stayed a few minutes longer because we wanted to have at least one family member by his side. That's when my grandfather passed away. He wanted go with only my mom in the room. So I do think that people, whether they look conscious or not, have the ability to control their time by a few days. It's something humans can't quite explain yet but I do believe people can hold on. So don't try to time your stay in Florida. Your father will do that for you - whether he wants you and your brother by his side is up to him.

6. Steve, so sorry to hear about your father, I lost my Dad 3 years ago to pancreatic cancer. All I can tell you is that no matter how well you think you are prepared it is still one of the most difficult things I have ever been through. I was with my Dad for 5 days, 24-7 and my family finally convinced me to take a break and go get some rest a real shower and come back the next day…I was gone a total of about 8 hours and he passed while I was gone. There is certainly a body of evidence out there that would indicate that they do not necessarily want the ones they are closest to them to be with them when you would think they would… I still have not figured it out and regret not being there but I know in my heart that is the way my Dad would have wanted it so I am a peace with that. Take care and do celebrate his life.

We are all in this life (and maybe the next one) together. And while there are many definitions of what 'a friend' is, I embrace a very open definition and feel in my heart that those of us that are connected by this weekly column are friends. You have shown me that over the years. I hope I have given you something back in return. Thanks for being there for me you guys. Thank you very much.

Photo: Taken this morning from my Dad's patio.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

On the Road-Ormond Beach, Florida

I cannot begin to thank those of you who sent me personal emails this past couple of weeks relating stories about your own experiences with the death of parents or grandparents or other loved ones; your encouragement and your advice has really helped me. After two weeks in Florida, I went home last Saturday. But then I wasn't sure why I hadn't stayed. So after a Monday of deep thinking (and reflecting on a lot of your messages which told me "You'll know the right thing to do", "Just follow your heart") at 3:30 am on Tuesday I got up and made a reservation to fly back to Florida that morning and have been here since. This guy, my old man, is a tough cookie. He won't let go and while at times he looks like he's ready to cash it in, he'll come out with something that shows that his sense of humor, somehow, still exists! But he's not having any fun and while he is at home, he has no quality of life. We knew we needed to help him let go, to give him permission to let go and to make sure he knew that those of us who he would be leaving behind in this world will be all right. The hospice package includes a difficult but wonderful section called "Preparing for Approaching Death." I'd never known any of this stuff before and it has been very helpful for us although it doesn't make it any easier. For the most part, my dad sleeps a lot and really can't form words. I'd heard about dying with dignity but this is the first time I've been this close to it; my mother died in 1992 in a hospice of aggressive (is there any other kind?) of brain cancer and she went quickly at age 68 but even near the end, when my father, from whom she had been divorced from and hadn't seen in many years walked into the room, I heard her say, "I haven't seen you in a long time; let me mix you a drink." This was remarkable as she was pretty much out of it by then. The power of the mind and spirit is just plain amazing. So, thanks again for holding me up during this; you guys are very special to me.

RCA released it's Real Estate Capital Trends report for November yesterday which features "Hundreds of Active Lenders for Commercial Real Estate." Subscribers can probe deeply into the data which includes an analysis of more than 1,250 commercial mortgages originated in 2009. With permission of RCA, here are some extracts from their strategic summary:

1. While financing for property remains scarce, there are hundreds of active lenders albeit at terms far more conservative and expensive than before.

2. A full half of the properties were financed by regional and local banks.

3. The "too-big-to-fail banks" originated approximately 20% of CRE loans by volume and 14% by number.

4. For larger deals and higher LTV loans, international banks have become the primary financing source.

5. Although their share of the market is roughly double that averaged in 2006 and 2007, insurance companies have accounted for 13% of CRE lending by volume and 6% by number.

So, there is money out there but buyers will need to accept that things have changed, or perhaps just gone back to a time of more real-ism. Given that money is made on the buy, those who want to get into or back into the game need to make sure that their analysis, their discounted cash flows, their expectations of leasing or lease renewal (or rental) are as realistic, and I'd say conservative, as possible. I don't believe that lenders are going to fool themeselves again (at least not right now). And, given the amount of scrutiny (vs. pressure to put money out), they are more inclined to walk away from making a loan than risking either getting fooled by a borrower (formerly known as 'the customer') or by the market, economy or what have you. However, real estate has always been and will always be a great long-term investment. For those that are in a position to think long-term, this is the time of your lives (and those of future generations).

Photo: Ormond Beach, Florida ("Take a right at the ocean and go straight until night.")

These are my views and not that of my employer.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Road Home

I wasn't able to attend this week's PREA meeting in Los Angeles but have heard from a few folks about it. Given the number of investors who told me they would not be attending for various reasons, my guess was that the ratio of non-institutional investors to others would be about 6:1. I didn't anticipate that the total attendance would be 900. Had I known that I would have revised my ratio to 9:1 (which one attendee felt might have been pretty accurate). The Fall PREA meeting has always been the most important one in our industry. When things were booming, attendance at this meeting soared. Perhaps the large turnout indicates that many feel the worst is over. However, it may not be that at all but rather the more desperate search for 'legal tender' to bail0ut deals and funds. I would rather feel more cautiously optimistic about it and believe that we are moving into a period where institutional investors will again start, well, investing. There does seem to be a reawakening of interest and perhaps that'll convert into actual dollar commitments in 1Q10.

Sometimes amazing things just happen. Here’s the story. Early in my father’s real estate property management career he was with a firm called Punia & Marx. Those of you around the New York area may know them as they’re still in business and one of the most successful, multi-generational real estate families in New York. My dad was one of their property managers who oversaw a number of their projects. With some time on my hands late the other night I randomly Googled them and found their website which had some old newspaper clippings about projects they had developed, including the project that we lived in in Forest Hills, NY. So I wrote this to the one contact person on the site:

“hello margie. my father, manney felix, worked for punia & marx many years ago. he's 92 and in failing health and my brother and i are with him in florida. even though i've walked by your offices and seen the sign outside today was the first time i looked on your website. one of the articles posted is about the buildings in forest hills that we moved into when my father was with your firm. our complex name was apparently changed to aero gardens, which is different from what was announced in the article. i know that herb punia was one of the principals when my dad worked there. i remember going to the office at 16 court street with him. he was in property management and went from building to building. i can remember the 'magic' door when the bromley first opened. anyway, i don't know if anyone at punia & marx is still around that would remember my father and i'm not even sure why i'm writing to you...perhaps that as my father fades we've been bringing up the past and working for you guys was a huge building block in his career in property management that lasted until he was almost 80. if herb punia is still alive, please mention my dad to him.
i appreciate it.

That was Wednesday night. Thursday morning I got this from Margie:

Believe it or not, Freddy Enrico who your father trained, is still working for the company. He is still working for Punia and Marx in the Manhattan office which is now located in the Bromley. Herb Punia and Len Punia are still working. Mr. Enrico is sitting right here and couldn’t believe this email. From time to time he thinks of Manney and wondered what happened to him and where he was. Does he remember Bill Sommerville? Our phone here is 212-686-9400 and he would love to hear from you. I am forwarding this email to Herb Punia as well.

I called and spoke with Freddy, who has been with the firm in, you guessed it, property management, for 55 years. He told me how my father mentored him and introduced him to property management. Freddy said such nice things about my Dad-how he came to work dressed well with ‘not a hair out of place.’ He never heard him raise his voice but his style conveyed what he expected to be done. Freddy stayed in touch with my Dad for a number of years and in Freddy’s own words, “your Dad made a difference in my life.” How unbelievable the Internet is. How amazing that Freddy still worked there and remembered my Dad. Next week I’m going into their office to meet Freddy and take a photo of him to send to my father. Forget about what Mastercard says is priceless….this kind of stuff….is simply in it’s own league!

During this week I got so many emails from you guys. I am grateful for you taking the time to write me and for those of you who shared stories, both current and past, of your experiences with parents at the end of their lives.

What’s still strange is that every day we have a thought that he could get better, like he’s got a cold or the flu. But then we are reminded that this is not the same; he is not getting better but rather simply his body is starting to shut down. I’m going home tomorrow and my brother on Sunday. I have reservations to come back to Florida again next Friday. One of my friends said, “He’s waiting for you and your brother to leave before he lets go.” At first I thought (a) Can he really control that? (b) Why wouldn’t he want us to be around? (c) Do I just stay? So in thinking about (a) I’m beginning to believe “Why not?” The mind is very powerful and there’s always been the ‘mind over matter’ argument. With regards to (b) I’ve been thinking about what I would prefer if it were me and while I can’t put myself inside my Dad’s head, part of me can see why he wouldn’t want his sons around when he takes his final breath. Anyway, it’s an awful lot to think about; I can’t imagine what is going through my father’s mind although the other morning Eleanor told me that he had talked with her about dying, etc. long before this but now he hasn’t said one word about it. He knows. He must. He knows we know. There’s no discussion about it. Just making him as comfortable as he can be and have him enjoy whatever he can (like lobster for dinner the other night).

This is very heady stuff. I can’t think of anything I’ve ever been through that is more. But as I’ve mentioned to you, the fact that Jay and I have been here, together, with Eleanor and our father has been really important. Last week, my Dad asked Jay and I, “When are you going home?” But he hasn’t said that once in the past few days.

Music: Tonight. Chicago. Ernie Hendrickson CD Release Show for “Walking with Angels.” Ernie is a talented singer/songwriter/guitar player and a really nice guy. I won’t be able to be there but if you’re in Chicagoland you will be in for a treat if you make the scene tonight: Oct 30th, 9:00PM at MARTYR'S 3855 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 773.404.9494

Photo (C. 1958). My brother Jay, My Dad, My Cousin Marcia, Me.

These are my views and not that of my employer.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The long and winding road...

Manney Felix is the last surviving sibling out of a family of seven. He is also my Dad. The family grew up extremely poor and moved around the Lower East Side of Manhattan and in Brooklyn. Stories are told of the mother, Lena (the father was sort of absent) picking up and moving whenever the landlord was ready to throw them out due to lack of payment of rent. There’s one story of her leaning out her kitchen window and pouring hot water (I hesitate to say boiling water) on one landlord coming up the fire escape to evict them.

My father, now 92 and a half as he’s quick to remind everyone, is fading. I got a call last Saturday, just a few hours after finishing up my cross-country drive, that he had had a mild heart attack and was in the hospital. I took a flight and got to Florida late last Saturday night. My brother flew in from Tucson on Sunday and we’ve both been here all week and watched our Dad deteriorate.

"Manney the Felix", as he is sometime known, is a tough, stoic WW II veteran who just doesn’t complain (except to his wife, Eleanor, if he doesn’t get his bananas and sour cream for lunch). And, up until 1990, he really didn’t talk much about his life. But then he seemed, okay with answering questions about his youth and his war experiences and when I interviewed him and his sister Phyllis (Fanny) who was second youngest, it seemed like they grew up in different households as their recollections were just so, well, different. Since then, he’s even allowed my cousin Jeffery to cross-examine him from time to time about the family as the brothers (Harry, Barney, Sammy, Danny, Manney) really didn’t talk much (to themselves or anyone else) and especially about anything important. So, we’ve learned a lot from my Dad about his take, as the youngest, on family life growing up poor in New York in the early 20th Century.

But then there’s my take, and that of my brothers’, on growing up with our father and especially during this past week, Jay and I have had time to talk about a lot of things going back in history and also thinking forward in time. But my Dad is hanging on and at certain times, when he’s lucid and seems to understand what we’re saying, he’s still able to grab some of his old ‘humor’ from somewhere, even if it’s just a facial expression or an ‘ugggh’ when Jay or I say something dumb (which in Jay's case is fairly frequently), just to try to entertain him or at least distract him from what he may be thinking about.

This is a different experience from when my mother died in 1992 of aggressive brain cancer but what I’m learning is that as dementia sets in, there are some common characteristics that one can observe. Yes, this is a very difficult time, one which I know that a lot of you have also experienced; but, my Dad has had a good life and has lived to see his great grandson, for now albeit using that magical technology Skype, but he knows that Sean is in the world and we know he’s thrilled about that-when you think about it, how many of us actually get to be a great-grandparent? It’s a pretty special thing I think?

So, I’m writing this to you, early on Friday morning because in a little while, Jay and I will go join Eleanor at the hospice where my Dad was moved to yesterday (Eleanor has been sleeping in the hospital and now in the hospice). After observing him for a week, the doctors have told us that there’s not much they can do for him medically and that this is a time to have him feel the most comfortable and enjoy his remaining time. Of course, no one knows how much time is left but it appears that each day, in some way, the end of his life is creeping closer.

He knows that we’re here and he can’t figure out what we’re doing here (Jay and I have told him that we decided to take a vacation and visit him but we're not sure he's buying that one). But he’s also not complaining and we’re not really sure how much he can process about his situation or his condition but we think he probably knows something is going on and it's not good stuff. And, like a lot of things, this experience gets me thinking, about life, about death and about quality of life. How do I want to spend my years? I’ve been introspective about that for quite a while now and this is another reminder that life is short, even if we live to be 100 and that tomorrow is never a certainty and "life is very short and there's no time for fussing and fighting my friends."

But, I am certain about one thing: I am fortunate to have had my father around for this long and through the years to have our relationship continue to evolve and grow. He is fortunate to have found Eleanor (although sometimes she’s not so sure :-) to share his life with for the past 27 years and if it weren’t for her, he would not have lasted this long nor enjoyed the quality of life that she has provided for him. My brother and I talked about this yesterday: sometimes we catch ourselves sounding like our Dad or saying something he would say and as much as we love him, we don’t necessarily want to be or act like him in certain ways. Maybe that’s the way it is with us all, that in different ways, we want to be different from our parents or in some ways the same but it takes time to be objective about your Mom and Dad, just as it takes time to be objective about yourself. My Dad knows who he is and who he’s been. He served our country in WWII having been part of the flood of young men who were motivated to enlist shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He always worked hard to provide for his family and he always had integrity and pride, even during some of the darker days of his career and life. He was the one to introduce me to the real estate industry when, playing rock and roll for a living, he said one day, "Why don't you get your real estate license? It couldn't hurt." He was a professional property manager (which is why I knew I never wanted to be one) who, in his last position as the general manager of a very large, multi-building, hi-rise codo project in Hallendale, Florida, survived for more than ten years in a politically charged environment where the typical manager lasts only two. And, even now, he has pride. Even now he maintains his integrity. And in his own words, even now he’s a ‘pain in the ass.’

On the long and winding road….

Oct. 23-?: Ormond Beach, FL

Nov 12: New York-Joan Osborne at B.B. King's

Nov 17-18: Frankfurt-INREV Investor Platform/Committee Meetings

Nov. 18-19: London to attend IMN's European's Opportunity Private Fund & Real Estate Investing Forum (I'm moderating a panel on 11/19 called "Project and Entity Level Workout Plenary" which is cool given that I've done a lot of workouts).

Dec 7-11: London (Special real estate event TBA)

These are my views and not that of my employer.

Friday, October 16, 2009

OTR Across America: Elyria, OH; Chicago, IL; Clive, IA; Ogallala, NE; Rock Spring, WY; Winnemucca, NV, Northern California.

I just got to California after a leisurely drive from New York. How can I say it was leisurely? Well, because I didn’t have to ‘push’ it and at the most drove eight hours in one day. I usually drive five over the speed limit which means for most of the last two days I’ve been going about 80 mph. What did we ever do before cruise control? I’ve crossed the country several times, although I wish I had done it when I was younger and had taken three months to really explore America, or said another way, explore the ‘real’ America (Hey, it’s never too late). But this ride was confined to Interstate 80, which begins just across the George Washington Bridge from New York and ends in San Francisco. The driving weather was mostly good except for two long periods of rain and fog. The snow that had fallen a few days before in Nebraska didn’t affect the roads but it’s a bit too early to see someone shoveling snow don’t you think?

Oh, BTW, I asked at every place I stopped: business is still down and people are ‘hopeful’ it will come back next year. Maybe by pure definition it’s not a recession but if business recedes, well, it doesn’t pay to get technical, what it is it is and business is down (except at Goldman Sachs).

Random thought and signs I saw on the road: Beautiful fall foliage in Pennsylvania; many Americans seem to have simple desires: peace and prosperity; Megan Muldoon finished here first Chicago marathon; Sean Felix (my grandson) seems to be on the verge of talking; Warning: Indiana Turnpike…as you approach Illinois…speed limit suddenly drops from 65 (or maybe 70) to 55 (can you say ‘speed trap?)-a guy who didn’t slow down got pulled over by one of the three, count ‘em, three state troopers just sitting and waiting to get people just two miles before paying the toll; I’m pretty sure that I’m right: Barry Sternlicht, Chairman of Starwood Hotels, invented the “Heavenly Bed” concept. But I don’t think it was he who invented the curved curtain rod that takes a small shower/bath and turns it into, well, a less claustrophobic environment. I would put this great invention in the same category as: Teflon, the Thermos (How do it know to keep a beverage hot or cold?), the wheel, fire, Velcro; Bob Feller Museum (aka Rapid Robert, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Cleveland Indians…didn’t think they had one did you?), John Wayne’s Birthplace, “Here’s where The Bridges of Madison County are”, America is the land of casinos, all the old DJ’s from WNEW-FM in New York have reinvented themselves on satellite radio (one complaint…. listening to the “Classic Vinyl” station is like listening to Top-40 AM radio years ago-songs get replayed way too often and while I like The Who, there’s only so many times you can listen to ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again” in any one day); 10 inches of snow last week in Nebraska; Route 80 was closed in certain places (way too early for this kind of stuff); Just east of Echo, UT you will find the nicest state run tourism rest stop; Clean Rooms; Wi-Fi, 24-Hour Pool; comments are pretty accurate; I went to a restaurant anyway and paid a small price for it; Best Western hotels are all independently owned and operated; Route 80 closed ahead when lights are flashing; Exit NOW!; Recently remodeled; We serve two kinds of wine here: red and white; Small towns have some very friendly people, even friendly to strangers if you’re friendly (but not too friendly) to them; Warning: New York Strip Steak does not mean the same thing in all places; Two for One Cocktails; Free Breakfast; Free Continental Breakfast; Free Hot Breakfast; Boo on CD: E.L. Doctorow’s new one, “Homer and Langley”-a good choice for the road if I do say so myself; America is one big country; the open spaces and clean air are reminders of what life is like outside our busy metro and suburban areas; long-haul truckers probably don’t deal with much politics on their job; light traffic all the way; no real driving ‘jerks’ (until I crossed into California; no tornadoes this time (but for old times sake I did have lunch in Kearney, NE; fresh brewed decaf coffee is not available everywhere; Runaway Truck Ramp; Wright Bros. Drive; Loggins & Messina playing in Wendover, NV; our tax dollars at work (lots of highway improvements being done….speed limit reduced to 55mph or less if you’re behind a big truck going up a steep incline); Prison Area-Do not pick up hitchhikers; of all the new Greyhound buses going in the opposite direction only two had signs showing their destination: both said Burlington, VT (is there a Phish concert or something?);

Thanks to my friend Debbie for sending me this link apropos of the list I published last week. Good reminders titled, "Always Time to Get Your House in Order."

I cannot let this week go by without a comment about yesterday’s “Kid in the Homemade Balloon” stuff. While this guy, the father, is strange, the media was totally exposed as to what it has become: an ambulance chaser and an irresponsible one at that. When I got to my room hotel yesterday I turned on the tube and saw at least four stations carrying the story that was no story. Then, early this morning, saw a bit of CNN’s Exclusive Interview with the family where Wolf Blitzer asked the kid, “What did you mean when you answered a reporters’ question about “Why did you do this?” by saying, “We did it for the show.” For those of you who saw this, the kids father jumped in, realizing he had been totally exposed, but not caring because all he was after was being totally exposed, on international TV. With too much time on their hands and too much focus on being first and not reliable, TV news is a joke. Actually, news, in its’ purest form is not a joke but stuff like this and networks like CNN are really, in my personal opinion, not only propaganda tools for the government but when you get down to it, simply entertainment shows related to who can get the highest ratings. Scams, shams, what have you, over the years have exposed CNN and others to what they really are but sadly, I don’t think they’ll ever learn or care. It’s just up to us as to what we spend our precious time doing, listening to and watching.

Addition: The book that David Lynn and his colleagues from ING Clarion just published is called "Active Private Equity Real Estate Investing." I forgot to include the title last week.

“Where is this?” Photo Contest: OK you guys, the last couple have been softballs but this one (lower left) is this week’s contest. No Googling Permitted. However, I am certain that some of you will say that this is a photo taken in a location that seems logical location, given the use of the premises. But be careful.

Photo Top Left: Cool shot of snow capped mountains in my side-view mirror.

Top Right: Panel at our recent "Brainstorming Breakfast" all about valuation (l-r: Bob White, RCA (Moderator); Steve Gottlieb, Deloitte; Gary Koster, E&Y; Brian Johnson, KPMG; Ed Casal, Aviva Investors.

On the Road.....

Oct 19-23: New York

Oct 20: New York-Shannon Corey at The Bitter End

Oct 26-29: Beverly Hills, CA for the PREA Annual Convention

Nov 12: New York-Joan Osborne at B.B. King's

Nov 17-18: Frankfurt-INREV Investor Platform/Committee Meetings

Nov. 18-19: London to attend IMN's European's Opportunity Private Fund & Real Estate Investing Forum (I'm moderating a panel on 11/19 called "Project and Entity Level Workout Plenary" which is cool given that I've done a lot of workouts).

Dec 7-11: London (Special real estate event TBA)

These are my views and not that of my employer.

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