Escalating Real-estate Values A Mixed Blessing
by Richard E. Noble
I was sitting on the front porch of my 1983 model, single-wide - out on my one acre lot on the old Escape Rd., reading the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, when a lady driving a Hummer pulled into my oyster-shell drive.
A Hummer is truly an impressive vehicle but I’ve always felt that if I had enough money to buy a Hummer, why not go all the way and get an armored troop carrier or a full-fledged legitimate tank. You know - how impressed the other little children at the schoolhouse would be, if my little junior tumbled out of a tank along with his camouflage lunch box and one of them hand-held shoulder rocket launcher things. Even without the green barrette, I’m sure little R.E. Noble Jr. would be the talk of all the third grade wannabees. Driving a Hummer has always seemed kind of like the Drug Store Cowboy kind of a thing to me - but, whatever.
The female driver of the Hummer parked in my oyster-shell drive was equally impressive and appropriate to her choice of vehicle. She looked like a cross between Gloria Swanson and Erma Bombeck. She was a little chubby but dressed as though she wasn’t. She was beaming as she approached the wooden steps of my Home Depot, personally constructed, wrap-a-round porch. I was really proud that my wife had finally put up the two-by-four hand railing on the side of the steps - if this lady happened to fall climbing up my steps, I’m sure that my insurance wouldn’t cover the cost of one of her high heels.
“Tell me,” she inquired exuberantly, “would you happen to know if the owners of the lots on either side of you are looking to sell their properties?”
“No I don’t, but why do you ask?” I queried.
“Well, property values in this neighborhood are escalating rapidly and I was just wondering if they might be interested in listing their properties with my realty company.”
“Well, I don’t know about them, but, if the price were right, my wife and I might be willing to sell,” I offered, brazenly.
“Why not? What do you think that I could get for this place?”
She looked around the property, slowly. She spent a few seconds eye-balling my two out-buildings. I had built one of the buildings from wood and tin that I had gathered out on the Island after hurricane Elena; the other was constructed from some slab cypress that I had gotten for free over at the old sawmill a number of years ago. As she scoped out my single-wide with the rear add-on addition, I secretly wished that my wife had not painted the darn trailer pink. The paint that she had bought on the discount shelf at the Ace hardware was labeled Dusty Rose, but now that it was on the trailer, it sure looked pink to me. I was sure that the pink color would knock a couple of hundred off her evaluation.
Finally, she took a pad out of her suit jacket pocket and with a gold pen that sparkled with embedded jewels she scribbled something onto the pad. Then she tore off the page, folded it in half, and handed it to me. I unfolded the paper.
There was nothing written on the page but a long series of numbers. I couldn’t figure for the life of me, why the woman would scribble down the current National Debt onto a piece of paper and hand it to me. After inquiring, she explained; “That is not the National Debt. It is my estimate of what I think you can sell this property for.”
I was tremendously excited, but being a very shrewd businessman and experienced in the deceptive art of the “poker face”, I remained quiet, motionless and excessively non-plussed. I wanted to say something calm and casual. I wanted her to think that I actually had the ability to express verbally the long line of numbers she had written onto that scrap of paper; but truthfully, after so many digits I get my millions and billions all jumbled up. After a very pregnant pause, I scratched my chin and asked thoughtfully; “Did you get my wife’s potting shed in the back?”
“No, where is it at?” she asked.
I took her for a walk out over my mounded septic tank to the potting shed. It was only tin and chicken wire but it was really neat. A few years back we had a few chickens - none of them were much at fighting, so we ate them. My wife then converted the chicken coup into a potting shed. She had some of those plastic tomato sprouting things, a bunch of clay pots, some gloves, a funny, purple hat with a big floppy brim, and a Garden Way wheelbarrow. The Garden Way wheelbarrow, itself, cost over a hundred bucks. The Hummer lady said that the potting shed was really sweet and that she could see no reason why it would not add twenty to thirty thousand to her estimate. I, of course, nodded thoughtfully in agreement.
We walked back to her Hummer chatting casually. I told her that I would have to talk it over with my wife, but I would definitely get back with her. She handed me her card. Her card had a picture of her way back when she was still in high school. I thought the jumping rope in addition to the prom dress was a little tacky. I helped her up into the cab; she backed out of the oyster-shell drive, and hummed on down the Escape Rd.
When I showed my wife the piece of paper with the lady’s estimate of our property written on it. She was speechless for a moment or two but then finally she asked; “Did she get my potting shed on there?”
“Yes, she did,” I informed her.
She then quickly and quietly rushed to the bedroom and got on the phone to her sister. After a number of hours of giggling, laughing and screaming into the telephone receiver, she returned to the kitchen table with a very serious look on her face.
“I don’t think that we should sell,” she said.
I could hardly believe my ears. Was she crazy? What could she possibly be thinking.
“Because, like Sallie says, if our property is worth this much today, what do you think that it will be worth a year from now? And, don’t you think that if this stranger is willing to offer us that much money, she must know something that we don’t know? Maybe Publix wants to buy this whole neighborhood - or Disney or Donald Trump! If we sell it now we could possibly lose millions.”
The greediness of her remarks at first shocked me, but then after a moment I began thinking of Andrew Carnegie and J. P. Morgan.
Andrew Carnegie sold U.S. Steel to J. P. Morgan for two hundred million dollars, only to learn years later that J. P. Morgan would have paid him three hundred million if he had only held out a little longer. Andrew Carnegie never got over the humiliation and embarrassment and went to his grave feeling cheated and outsmarted. I certainly didn’t want to spend my last days living like Andrew Carnegie. Sometimes, I’ll bet he didn’t even want to come out of the suite of his luxury liner yacht. What a horror it must have been hiding away in that big lonely castle in Scotland. Not me. One should learn something from reading history.
Carol and I have decided not to sell, even though nobody has actually offered to buy our property yet. I can’t imagine what type of person would want to pay all that money for my pink single-wide, with a re-cycled chicken coup. But then in today’s world, I suppose that there could be a nice, rich lady out there driving a pink Lamborghini with a very prized and much beloved pet chicken - it could happen!