The HOME Program

The following is an article that was written and published in the Canadian Mortgage Professional magazine. You can view the HOME Program website here. The article below focuses on my participation but it is important to note that we have many fabulous people who make the program happen.  Not the least of which is the contribution by all of the participating REALTORS®. There are also many other mortgage professionals and other industry professionals who make it all happen. My thanks to all of you.

by Vernon Jones, CMP Magazine:

A modest income won’t necessarily kill the dream of homeownership, but it will challenge it. It’s something Axiom Mortgage Solutions CEO Mike Cameron has learned over the last ten years, working alongside brokers, real estate agents and social services providers on Alberta’s Home Program, an initiative, also in its tenth year, and focused on preparing families that have already moved out of poverty and want to take that next step into a home of their own.

“We are facilitating that next step in the continuum of housing, and it’s a program I’m really passionate about and have invested in,” said the veteran of Edmonton’s broker community. “We celebrate 10 years of the program this year and in that time have helped 1,541 families purchase homes. There are currently 1,606 others active in the program and together that’s made for $94.5 million in transactions.”

The hard, cold numbers don’t really tell the story of participants who access education, the professional advice of real estate brokers and mortgage professionals along with  financial aid and down payment support through the Home Program. What they don’t access is a handout. Ultimately, the program is centered on providing participants the tools to help themselves and their families into homeownership, if, in fact, that is the best fit for them.

“The program grew out of a situation where the Capital Region Housing Corporation was looking for a way to help clients who through their own success no longer qualified for public housing assistance,” said Cameron, regional financial coordinator for the program. “It has been extended to anyone who wants to participate, but it was originally seen as a way to bridge that gap. It still is.”

The Home Program starts first with education, hosting free in-class workshops that layout the necessary groundwork – budgeting, credit building and debt management. Counsellors then review participant eligibility based on financial criteria, before a second round of workshops focused on addressing the home-buying process, including what is for many participants the confusing world of mortgages.

Low income buyers who have completed both education sessions can apply for down payment assistance for up to 2.5 per cent of the purchase price.

“The down payment assistance is a gift,” said Cameron, a 16-year veteran of the mortgage industry. “It’s only repaid if the property is sold for a profit within three years. But the reality is that people don’t cash out on their homes.”

That message has resonated with Alberta brokers who’ve supported the Home Program, which started in Edmonton but has now stretch as far south as Lethbridge. The role of those mortgage professionals have generally been to share in the financial coordination duties Cameron leads as a volunteer. Members of the Alberta Real Estate Association are just as involved, with AREA’s Affordable Housing Initiative, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the Alberta Real Estate Foundation and the Capital Regional Housing’s CTD Housing Solutions listed among other key funding partners. The last one on that list foots the bill for the services of the program administrator, who oversees the growing initiative.

Affordable housing continues to be a primary focus for many mortgage brokers both in and outside Alberta, something evidenced by ongoing broker channel support for Habitat For Humanity Canada.

Poor credit is often identified as the biggest hurdle to helping Canadians into their own homes, but that isn’t necessary true, says Cameron.

“Credit is often the easiest hurdle to get over,” he says. “The good news with credit is that it can be improved, it just takes time.”

Some clients of the program have taken as long as seven years to steel themselves for the home-buying process. But when they are ready, they’ll go through the same motions as most other A clients. Indeed, the goal is to see them qualify for prime rates, whether directly through a bank or working with a mortgage professional, says Cameron. “We don’t put any restrictions on how and where they obtain a mortgage.”

Home prices in Edmonton and across much of the program’s territorial reach have largely aided the buying process for participants.

While Edmonton’s residential real estate market saw sales pick up in Jun, prices actually fell compared to June 2010.

The median single-family selling price was $361,888, up a modest one per cent year-over-year. The average condo selling price was lower at $231,852, down more than five per cent year-over-year. It’s been a similar story for Calgary as the province’s housing markets continue to climb their way back from the last correction. That kind of dramatic dip isn’t expected to repeat itself, with economists pointing to the strengthening labour market, which should keep prices from falling much further. But values are now very close to the top end of what consumers are prepared to take on, say analysts, something that should limit further escalation in 2011 and 2012.

Still, demand for the Home Program shows little sign of easing. According to data from Statistics Canada, during the recent recession as many as one in five families in the greater Edmonton area lived in poverty. From 2008 to 2009, there was a 68 per cent increase in the number of Albertans who qualified as low income.

The Home Program is seen as providing the light at the end of that tunnel, helping families that have stabilized their financial situations, take that next step into homeownership. The benefits, as mortgage brokers know, aren’t limited to value appreciation and mortgage interest deductions.

“Homeownership helps create stability for families and a pride of ownership and a greater sense of community connection,” says Cameron. “For the community, it means people are more involved and engaged.”

“Value” comes in many shapes and sizes: Part 1

One of the things you will often hear from the marketing gurus out there is the constant talk about ‘value’. The concept is that you can’t just be spewing product information and pushing your message out to the masses.  People have become resistant to this kind of marketing.  You need to provide ‘value’ is the phrase that we always hear and discuss. While I completely, emphatically and 100% agree, providing value is not always as easy as it may sound.

Often times customers don’t understand or recognize the need for the ‘value’ of your product or service. As a mortgage broker the value that we provide to consumers is substantial and includes:


For consumers

  • Educating them on product options
  • Tailoring a product to their specific needs
  • Shopping the market for the best interest rate
  • Reviewing their mortgage needs on a regular basis
  • Help identify strategies to pay down their mortgage faster
For referral partners
  • Providing a high level of service to their clients
  • Keeping them informed throughout the process
  • Becoming an extension of their sales process
  • Providing options for their clients
  • Building fences around their clients

A logical thought pattern then would be to provide value by offering these services for free or unsolicited. Unfortunately many consumers or referral sources are going to see an ulterior motive in these tactics. It is therefore easy for your value to get lost in the mix.

So how do we provide ‘value’ and gain the opportunity to build a relationship with a potential customer or referral source? I have run into a couple of scenarios lately that I thought demonstrated a few out of the box ways of providing value.

The first example happened to me in a sort of unexpected way. As mortgage brokers one of the prime referral sources for my team is REALTORS®.  As I dove into the world that is Twitter it made sense for me to connect with other industry members as well as REALTORS®. Obviously if I started tweeting rates and service offerings to the REALTORS® I was following (were following me), I would very quickly become ‘unfollowed’ and largely ignored. So how could I provide value without it becoming a blatant solicitation? Well, oddly enough the opportunity hit me while I was away on vacation and up late with a bout of insomnia.

One of the REALTORS® I follow posted a tweet about a run time he posted that he was not entirely happy about. I tweeted back that it was quite respectable and mentioned that I needed to ‘get back into it’. He replied immediately with a ‘Are you a runner?’. The conversation went on and I explained how I was an on and off runner and had done the Edmonton Marathon back in 2003. I asked if he had a race planned and when he indicated that he was new to running and was training for a race in September in my area. Well, I needed a race to train for (don’t run otherwise) so I went online on my iPhone and registered for the same race. I tweeted that to him and he replied with something to the effect of “Wow, I like it. Got time for coffee next week. Need to know about winter running”.

Bang! I’m in. My value to him was in my experience running. It had nothing to do with my profession or business, but it opened the door and allowed me to create a new relationship. Now notice in this case he was the one to initiate the meeting. How do you think the scenario would have played out had I tweeted him something like “I can give your clients stellar rates. Want to meet for a coffee?”. Yeah, that meeting likely would not have taken place.

It is important to understand that value doesn’t always look like what you think it might.  Find other ways to provide value to your customers and referral sources. After all, the point of providing value is to make a connection and forge a relationship. It doesn’t always have to happen in your primary line of business.

I have a few other examples of similar scenarios that I will save for future posts.

Some folks get it… and some they don’t

So since I started getting on this social media bandwagon, I’ve been really paying attention to how companies interact with the public.  Especially on Twitter. I have run into a few different experiences that I thought I would document that really highlight the difference between those companies that ‘get it’ and those that don’t.

It was my wifes birthday last week.  The kids and I decided we would take her out to one of our favourite restaurants, The Melting Pot over on the south side of the city. We were pretty excited and I thought I would check out their social media prowess. So I sent a tweet something to the effect of

Taking my wife out for a birthday dinner to @meltingpotedm

Off we went for our dinner.  Now you need to understand we have been to the Melting Pot about 8 times in the 18 months or so that it has been open. The whole family really enjoys it. Unfortunately this visit was less than stellar. Our server was extremely friendly and attentive, but screwed up on the kids initial order. By the time we got to dessert the service had really gone downhill. My wife’s coffee order came out when we were just about finished the dessert. The dessert portions were smaller than usual and we were missing a some favourite dippers. It was nothing substantial but not a fantastic experience.

So the next day after I get to work I receive a tweet from @meltingpotedm:

How was it? We hope that you had a great time and thanks for spending the special occasion with us!

So I responded and the conversation looked like this:

@meltingpotedm good. Service fell apart a little at the end. Dessert prtns have dwindled since r 1st visit. was r 8th visit since u opened

@axiommike Sorry to hear! Referring to Chocolate or Dippers for the dessert? I’d like to look into this – thanks 4 the heads up!

@meltingpotedm dippers. think was 1 off. Marshmallows were plain, no oreo or graham cracker crumbs :0( & slow with wifes Latte #allgood ;0)

@axiommike Sounds like u received a Gluten Free dessert plate (mallows served plain). Thx for the info – will follow up with kitchen!

Notice how my tone changed after even the initial acknowledgement?  When I sat down and thought about how I felt Tuesday morning prior to this exchange about the dinner, compared to how I felt after the exchange. Wow, what a difference. Obviously they could do nothing to actually change my experience but just by acknowledging the experience they completely altered my take away from that dinner. Well done @meltingpotedm!  If you do get the opportunity to go I would highly recommend. After all they are 7 for 8 in my book and those stats aren’t bad by my standards.

Contrast that with my Twitter experience with @goodlifefitness. One of the things I find extremely frustrating with many of the fitness clubs of days gone by are the hard sell techniques to gain members. My wife used to work at a few as a personal trainer and witnessed some of these behaviors first hand.  She is not a fan of these tactics.

Late last week she happened to be out on some errands with our 8 year old daughter and happened to be passing by the new Goodlife Fitness club. She is interested in seeing what kind of classes they have to offer and what a membership vs. drop in fees might be. Well of course they would not give her any information until she made an appointment to have a full orientation. She was not impressed. So when we discussed the experience at dinner, I suggested that I would tweet at them her experience and see what kind of response we received.

@GoodLifeFitness wife just popped in #shpklocation while out with daughter. Looking 4 membership info. Can’t without full tour#annoyed

Well, this will be a short story… We received NO response. I honestly do not understand why companies put themselves out there on Twitter if they are not prepared to respond to customers. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but I think if you have a corporate Twitter account you have an obligation to respond to it. Your thoughts?

The Power of Social Media

About a month ago I was asked to come do a presentation at a lunch and learn in a fairly casual setting. I discussed a few subjects with the organizer and we settled on what I would entitle “Relationship based selling in a digital world”.  My thought was I would do a sales presentation that was somewhat counter to what I thought the whole social media movement was about.  I thought I would focus on the fact that in order to create relationships you needed to actually talk to people.

During the my time preparing and researching for my presentation, I have to tell you my views changes dramatically.  I started to see the value and the power that social media presents to us if harnessed properly. The following story is just one of the examples that I encountered while doing my research. Hopefully this will help demonstrate to you the power and opportunity that this new medium presents.

One of our Mortgage Associates, Scott had purchased a Hyundai Sante Fe about a year ago. Over the course of less than 1 year he ran into all kinds of trouble with the vehicle.  Almost all of the major mechanical systems failed. The steering system, the suspension, the 4 wheel drive system. While the dealership repaired all of the issues as they arose it got to a point where Scott just did not feel safe driving the vehicle anymore.

After returning to the dealership to try and get some satisfaction, perhaps they would take the vehicle on a trade, Scott was treated very poorly and no resolution was offered. Scott then decided to take things into is own hands. He went out and purchased a big yellow posterboard in which he wrote about all the issues he had had with the vehicle.  He then proceeded to tape it to the side of the Hyundai as he drove around Calgary.  Scott decided to take his message on step further.  He took a photo of the vehicle with the posterboard on it and made it his facebook profile picture.  He accompanied the picture with the caption below:

“Our Santa Fe is almost celebrating it’s first birthday!! So far, it has had various pieces break or fall off… And while I think that on the whole the make is a good one, when the steering system goes and they need to replace everything, then the 4 wheel drive, and most recently a spring broke and came off, to which the service manager explained ” the last time we saw something like this it took out the tire, and the vehicle rolled. That guy was lucky to make it out alive”. Hyundai Canada doesn’t understand why I won’t put my children back in this vehicle. In fact, you would think that the dealership might want to take it on trade as I said that I don’t have a problem in general, but that I no longer have any confidence with THIS car. Nope! The GM just gathered 6 male employees to accompany him to come and talk to me after half a dozen voicemails and emails weren’t returned. Then he starts yelling “Hey Mark!” and thinks I’m being rude by ignoring him! WTF???”

I came across this on Facebook as I was doing my research for this presentation and thought, wow, isn’t this an interesting way of sharing a customer experience. I decided I would share this photo with my Facebook “friends” as well to demonstrate the power of social media.

Well it soon became like that old Faberge Organics commercial, you know where she told two friends, and they told two friends and so on, and so on… Only now it is more like and they told 236 friends, and Jason told 323 friends and Gord told 567 friends and so on, and so on.  In a matter of about five minutes I watched Scotts message about his dissatisfaction with Hyundai reach over 3000 people. I actually went and did a friend count of everyone in my network that I saw repost it.

It really demonstrated to me the power of sharing within social media. Social media has absolutely put the power back in the hands of the consumer. No longer is Scotts story confined to those around the water cooler, but now that message can spread instantly like wildfire. We all have to start doing business as if everyone is watching, because with social media, they are.

You can view a video of the presentation I referenced on here.


Lessons from Twitter on Accountability and Transparency

You will hear all kinds of words used to describe how to interact on social media. You will hear about authenticity, you will hear about engagement.  The two most powerful words when it comes to social media and especially Twitter are Accountability and  Transparency.

I had just recently started using Twitter and had talked to one of our franchise owners who has had much success and is a bit of an authority on Twitter.  I asked her for some pointers and to monitor my progress. She did that over the course of a few weeks and shared some thoughts on etiquette and strategy. I truly appreciated the hand holding as I dove in to this previously unknown territory.

About two or three weeks after I had been ‘out on my own’ I received a tweet from her as follows:

Dear @axiommike – I can’t find that “new’ feature on my CRM program that lets me upload doc’s – have triggered it for me? 🙂

I replied:

LOL, I love that we communicate this way. I’ll confirm it is ‘turned on’ 4 u

After thinking about it for 30 seconds I wrote her another tweet:

“twitter is great for accountability huh? I think I just committed to do something 4u in front of thousands? millions?”

So I obviously took that to heart and had our IT team “turn it on” in about 60 seconds.  I then replied with:

can I please get a “wow”… done!

Followed immediately by a more humble:

ok, maybe not a so much of a wow, more of a “it’s about time” 😉 I appreciate you immensely.

She, knowing how this thing works, replied with a:

WOW – thanks for the great help – i love being part of the “Axiom” mortgage broker system!! Why doesn’t everyone do it this way?

Which of course I then had the opportunity to retweet to let all my followers know how pleased she was with the organization she is a part of. So in a public exchange of about 2 minutes she held me accountable to do the things she needed me to do. Because I was able to deliver, I was able to take advantage of her immediate testimonial and redistribute to my entire follower base.

I am constantly amazed at the examples, and opportunity I continue to see in this wonderful world we call social media.

Back at ‘er

You know how it is.  You’ve gone too long without getting out for a run.  You want to do it, you need to do it but you just need that kick in the pants to get out the door.  Well my ‘kick in the pants’ came while I was on vacation and of all places from Twitter.  Yes, Twitter.  It was 3 nights into our Banff family vacation and as is sometimes the case I could not sleep. I often have bouts of insomnia where the mind is racing and sleep just will not come.

So I’m lying in bed beside my wife who is fast asleep and I decide to grab my iPhone and see what is going on in the wonderful world that is Twitter.  One Tweep (@craigpilgrim) whom I follow happened to post about a run time he had earlier that evening and was not all that happy with it.  I replied that I thought that was a fine time and that I needed to get back at it as well. He replied inquiring about my running and we discussed some of the things that I had done in the past and the fact that I really needed a race to train for to keep me motivated.  I asked if there was something specific that he was training for and he mentioned two 10K races, one being sufficiently far out that I felt it would be perfect for me. I went online with my iPhone and signed up right then and there and said so via Twitter. The response was “Wow! Not messing around — cool! How’s late morn/ early aft next Thurs for coffee or diet coke?”. So we made arrangements to meet when I got back to discuss running.

Flash forward to Thursday after I get back and we have a great meeting, discuss a number of things including running and technology.  I finish my day and after dinner tweet a “Nice to meet you. I think you are my new accountability buddy for #running Gonna go tonight” knowing that if I tweet it I will be held accountable to actually do it. So now that I am newly inspired, I go get my running gear on, download RunKeeper for the iPhone, setup a new playlist and out the door I go.

Feeling GOOD!  Picture this… iPhone strapped on, new running app installed, playlist set, stretched and ready to go. I hit ‘Start’ on the app and a sexy female voice says “Activity Started” then immediately kicks into ACDC – “You Shook my all night long”. Yes, I have made my head banger playlist for this one.  Feeling a little sluggish first time out in awhile but mid run I hit ACDC – “Have a drink on me” as I stop for a water break, make my turn and start heading back.  I hit the driveway and start walking it out just as the playlist hits Godsmack – “Crying like a %$#@“. How appropriate for the first time back at ‘er.  What a great evening run in about 24 degrees of sunshine.

OK, well the music may not be to everyones taste but insert your own playlist and get out for that run you have talking about for far too long.

Thanks for the inspiration Craig!

My first Marathon: 2003 ING Edmonton Marathon

It all started with an email.  A friend of mine and REALTOR had run many different marathons over the coarse of a few years.  We had often talked about them and he knew I had a small nagging interest in pursuing the challenge.  We were exchanging emails on a file one day and once we had completed that series of emails he sent me one last one that said “Oh yeah, if you are going to run the Edmonton Marathon, training starts today”.  He went on to attach an 18 week training schedule.  Now I have never been a distance runner in my life and have always had trouble with my shins so was a little skeptical but thought “What the heck, I need to get some excercise”.  The first days run was only 4 or 5 KM anyhow so I figured lets see how it goes.  I did not respond to the email and did not tell anyone that “I was going to run a Marathon”.

I kept up with the training program and gradually improved both my times and distances. By the time I got to, and finished my first 18KM run I started thinking, “Holy crap, I may actually be able to do this!”. The next weeks long run was 22KM and once I finished that one I was committed.  Heck, if I could do 22KM, a distance I would have never thought possible, then why couldn’t I work my way up to 42.2!

At this point I started telling people about it and made the plunge.  I registered for the race, shelled out my money and was mentally “IN”. As this was my first kick at the cat I had no illusions about trying to set world records and really did not care about ‘time’. Unfortunately, being the competitive soul that I am, as I became more and more comfortable with my runs, I started looking at what my pace runs might mean for a finishing time. I set myself a goal of 4 hours and picked up my training to try and hit that target.

Fast forward to race day and man was I feeling great! I had come a very long way in those 18 weeks. Moving my previous longest run from 10KM all the way up to 32KM and feeling good. For those of you that I have never trained for a marathon, my training program never actually took me up to race distance and 32KM was as far as we went. I guess the idea is that 42.2KM is a large stresser on your body and you do not want to do it more than you need to.

I lined up at the start/finish line with thousands of others. My family would be out on the course cheering me on and I was so high on adrenaline that nothing could stop me. The gun went and the race was on. I found myself the 4 hour pace bunny and settled in with that pack. I felt GREAT! 18 weeks of training, no pain and I was ready. We hit the half way mark at just under 2 hours, I had seen my wife and kids twice so far and both times waved back at them vigorously excited to see them out on the course.

Once I hit about the 30KM mark I started to realize that I may not be able to keep up the pace for the whole race and started to lose the 4 hour pace pack. I saw my family again at about the 34KM mark but this time it was all i could do to raise a hand and acknowledge them. I was glad they were their but was in a battle of mind over matter with my body and needed to focus 100% of my mental energy on simply moving forward.

By this time I had mentally adjusted my time goal and started thinking about perhaps a 4:10 finish. At about 38KM the 4:15 pace bunny passed me only to turn around jogging backwards yelling encouragement at his group. It was about 40KM that my leg started to cramp and I had to walk it out a little. The experience was surreal. There were racers scattered across the route in various states of pain, exhaustion and joy. Some were walking in obvious pain, others focused intently trying to keep up the pace and others looking entirely fresh. I felt like I was on a battle field. One runner passed me and yelled out “Rub it out buddy we’re almost there”. I started jogging again and managed to overcome the cramp.

For the last couple of kilometers we crossed the high level bridge and ran up the hill at 109th Street. I thought that may finish me but as I got to the top, the REALTOR that inspired me to run was there in his capacity as a course martial and his smiling face encouraging me on was exactly what I needed to help me round out the last kilometer or so.

I finished the 2003 ING Edmonton Marathon with a time of 4:20. I was thrilled! After I found my family I went and found the massage tables, paid my $20 and got the best leg rubdown I have ever had in my life for the next 15 minutes. It took a lot of time and commitment but completing that marathon was one of the most satisfying things I have ever done in my life.

Life can change in the blink of an eye

Most years for our family summer vacation we make our way out to see my parents in beautiful Hope, British Columbia.  They have a gorgeous spot directly on Kawkawa Lake with about 60 feet of beachfront.  Their place comes complete with a second floor deck that spans the entire width of the home.  Surrounded by a glass railing this West facing deck offers a stunning view of the lake.  At the far South side of the deck before you get to the stairs that lead down to the grass, their is a large 8 man (woman) hottub.  Just perfect for warming up on those sometimes cool days after a hard day of skiing, wakeboarding, kneeboarding or tubing.  Dad has a 19 foot SeaRay with a 115 HP outboard that isn’t exactly a $90,000 competition ski boat like some on the lake, but it gets us around just fine.  Add a few other amenities such as a Kayak, a canoe and a 12′ aluminum fishing boat and you have a recipe for a whole lot of summer fun.

As we typically also take a nice winter vacation, I will usually come down to BC for one week with my family and then fly home leaving them to enjoy the lake for a second week.  My brother will typically fly in for week two and drive home with Christine and the kids at the end of the second week.  This gives me a little time to catch up on some work, a little R & R and gives the kids some more time with Grandma and Grandpa.  It usually works out fairly well.

This year however I was caught a little off guard when I got a phone call from Christine at about 9:30pm.  I answered the phone and she said hello, I asked how she was doing, her response… “Not so well, we just got hit by a boat’.  My mind instantly goes to some horrible accident that involved the kids, so I start walking toward the door thinking I am hopping on a plane and headed back to Vancouver for a hospital visit.  My stomach was in knots and I felt like I was going to vomit.  I ask if everyone is OK and she quickly reassures me that everyone is physically OK, but that Christopher, our 10 year old, is pretty shaken up and would like to talk to me.  So without giving much in the way of details so she doesn’t exacerbate the issue.  She explains that they were out for an evening tour in the fishing boat when they were hit by one of those fancy competition ski boats that I mentioned earlier. She then puts Christopher on the line and I say “Hey buddy, how are you” like I normally do.  He replies with a “Not so good” in the saddest little voice I think I have ever heard from him.  My heart is breaking.  I ask if he wants to talk about it and he says ‘no’ so I try and change the subject and ask about his day.  We get our usual banter done and he asks if I would like to speak to Mikaela.  I say of course and tell him how much I love him and say goodnight.  Mikaela picks up the phone and fortunately she sounds much more perky than Christopher did.  The incident didn’t seem to phase her nearly as much and she tells me about the rest of her day.  I say Love you and goodnight to her and get back on with my wife.  The kids are still within earshot so I only get a watered down version of the story still.  We discuss what actions should be taken with respect to the boat driver and whether the incident needs to be reported or not.  We agree that we’ll sleep on it and discuss later.

So it is not until Saturday when I talk to my brother that I get the whole story and the full extent of the jeopardy some asshole put my family in.  Turns out Chrisine (my wife), Darryl(my brother) and my two kids (Christopher 10, Mikaela 8) were out in the fishing boat exploring the lake.  The boat has a little 9.9 HP motor on it as well as a small electric motor.  They looked up to see this bright orange ski boat approaching and heading directly for them but still 3 or 4 hundred yards away.  Lots of time for the driver to alter course.  Time marches on and no alteration in course.  Darryl stands up and starts waving his arms.  No change in course.  He’s in disbelief, the boat is relatively full surely someone must see them.  Christine stands up and starts yelling and waving as well.  Still no change in course and now no time to time to try and motor out of the way.  Christine makes the last second call, grabs the kids and yells jump.  They do and the ski boat instantly mows down the small aluminum craft.  Fortunately everyone on board jumped clear just in the knick of time.  Unfortunately the yahoo driving the boat is shocked out of watching his wake surfer and back to focus on driving his boat, and decides that he better slam the boat in reverse.  He backs right over Darryl who is holding onto the swim platform being pushed backwards by the boat frantically waiting for the V-drive boats propeller to hit his feet as they get sucked underneath.  Luckily this doesn’t happen and Darryl lets go and gets pushed directly under the boat only to pop up on the other side.  Thank God.  Disaster averted.  Everyone is fine if not a little shaken up.  A nearby boater who watched the whole incident unfold in disbelief comes and pulls them all out of the water and ferries then safely back to the house.

A police report is being filed and the drivers family will of course pay for all the damages but it is amazing to think that if that had gone slightly differently I could have lost everything I love in this world in the blink of an eye.

Don’t treat your mortgage like rent!

For many first-time buyers it is easy to get into a new home and a mortgage and continue to treat it the same way you did when you were renting. You can make a significant impact on how quickly you payoff your mortgage by just paying a little attention to it.

While renting you get into the habit of paying your regular monthly rent bill month in and month out.  With your mortgage it is important to remember that you have the opportunity to pay extra whenever you can.  Yes, I know paying extra never sounds like a great idea.  Trust me, in the instance it is a fantastic idea!

By making additional regular payments you can significantly shorten the time it takes to pay off your mortgage and therefore save yourself thousands of dollars.  When my wife and I bought our first house I was determined to pay off our mortgage as quickly as possible. Now you have to remember I am a bit of a fanatic when it comes to this kind of thing as I see the numbers day in and day out.  I knew that our mortgage was potentially going to be the biggest purchase of our lives (Yes, more expensive than our house if we took a full 35 years to pay it off).

We started with bi-weekly accelerated payments, that is we took the regular monthly payment (amortized over 25 years) divided that by two and made that payment every two weeks.  As any of you who get paid every two weeks knows, that means that there are two months out of the year where we were making 3 payments.  The net effect of this was to reduce their amortization to about 21 and a half years.

Once we got into the house I started looking for other ways we could cut expenses and increase our pay down of the mortgage.  We had a water cooler that we had brought from our apartment that cost us about $26/month, we also had those ‘free’ (for the first 3 months) movie channels that actually cost us almost $40/mo.  I called up the water company and asked them to come get the cooler. I then called up the cable company and cancelled those extra movie channels.

I then called the bank and increased our bi-weekly payment by $50 (now we were down to about 18.x years).

I was working for the bank as a mortgage specialist at the time and often had a tax refund. We took any tax refunds over the next 3 years and applied that directly to the mortgage each year (down to under 14 years now).

We had originally taken a 3 year term at 7.15% in 2000 and when it came up for renewal we were fortunate enough to obtain an interest rate of 4.49% for a new five year term.  My wife was all excited as she figured the new lower rate meant more disposable income every month. I said no way, it means we get to pay down our mortgage faster! Yes, she was very excited about that! We kept our payments the same as the previous term so now we were paying off a substantial portion of principal each month.  This combined with the application of more tax refunds left us in a spot where today (2011) we are now mortgage free!

Now you may not want to be quite as aggressive as we were, but the point is that with a little bit of effort and focus you can make a substantial impact on the amount of interest you pay over the life of the mortgage without significantly affecting your lifestyle.

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