The Benefactor

This is an excerpt from my future book, on being open to and recognizing kindness and generosity. This is a true story. I've changed the names for my own protection.

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Introduction
I'm a kind person and that doesn't sit well with some people. I've learned that most people are suspicious of kindness and generosity. I come from a generous family and have great models to emulate. Kind people show up in my life every day. Yet, for the past 12 years, every time I do something out of the kindness of my heart in my own community I am treated with derision, contempt and hostility. Don't take this as a complaint from me, but rather, a lesson to make you aware of how you might react or respond if someone wants to be your benefactor. Be open to possibilities, be willing to accept someone's kindness and generosity. And maybe someday you yourself can be someone's benefactor.

The Neighbors
I used to own a mobile home in Girard, Pennsylvania. It's the one in the photo at the top of this article. I paid $25,000 cash for it after the owner had some difficulty getting the title cleared. It was worth less than that, but I gave the owner additional money because I lived in the home for two months while he paid the lot rent. I didn't have to give him more – it wasn’t in our agreement - but I did because I don't take advantage of people. My father always taught me to give more than is expected.

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Sadly, I learned quickly that my neighbors didn't like me. They did everything to show me their contempt and hatred of me. Understand that I lived alone, owned a paid-for (8 year old) home, owned a paid-for (8 year old) car, didn't depend on a husband to support me, didn't work at a minimum wage job, did all my own yard work and snow shoveling, was university educated, and worked at home, supporting myself as a writer. I had lost everything I owned because I helped police put a criminal in jail and had to find a place to hide to stay safe after the death threats started. But I was an ideal neighbor: quiet, considerate of others, helpful, and asked only for the same from my neighbors. I didn't fit the resident "profile" of the community I lived in.

When I watched in horror as my 25-year-old, next-door neighbor and his three pals drove their 3 cars
in reverse at 60 miles per hour into the cul-de-sac while toddlers played in the street, I had to do something. The last thing I wanted was to see an innocent child lose his life in a moment of irresponsible behavior from an immature adult. So I wrote a letter to management. What did management do? They took away half of my front yard and gave it to the jerk who puts children's lives in jeopardy. I was punished for trying to protect the neighborhood children.

As a consequence of my concern for children, all the neighbors became bullies and I lived with insults, name-calling, and threats of violence for 4 years. Life became unbearable and management supported the bullying. I did everything to try to sell my home, even offering $500 rewards to my neighbors if they brought me a buyer. I held an essay contest to give away the mobile home. The local newspaper would not even accept my payment for a classified ad to promote the contest.

I was desperate to get away from the daily harassment and bullying. I even offered the mobile home to Habitat for Humanity, but they had impossible conditions. Not only did they want me to give them the home, but also a check for $10,000 so they could buy land to put it on. (If I had had $10,000 to buy land I would have done that for myself to solve my problem.) But I would have to raise the money myself (and pay income tax on it)
and HFH forbade me from saying my fundraising was for Habitat for Humanity. Can you see my mounting frustration?

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Finally Jake, an older man who had once lived in the home behind mine, offered me $15,000 for the home, but he wintered in Florida and didn't want to buy it for another 7 months. Meanwhile a 25-year-old woman – let's call her Joan – who was 6 months pregnant wanted to buy my home and offered me $19,000. She had inherited $5,000 from her grandmother and I decided in my mind that if she couldn't get financing for the home I'd give it to her, fully furnished, for the $5,000.

The glitch was her boyfriend, let's call him Lorne, who I could tell was toxic for her. I wanted to give this soon-to-be mother a good start for her child and her so I gave her as a gift 2 copies of my booklet,
No Surprises: 365 Critical Questions You Need to Ask Each Other Before You Marry, hoping she would discover on her own that Lorne was not a good match for her. (Lorne was an uneducated, unemployed bully who criticized my personal items in the home, while Joan was educated and held a professional job with a good income.) She gave me a $1,000 deposit and signed a Purchase Agreement that was conditional on her getting financing, then she handed over all decision-making to Lorne. Or, so he told me.

Sabotage
Joan's brother came to see my home because he was going to be her co-signer. The transaction could not fail. Or so I thought.

The closing date passed without any contact from either Lorne or Joan. I cashed the check as they were in default of the agreement, but I held on to the money. I talked to the bank manager where I had sent them to arrange financing. Lorne, it turns out, used only his own poor credit history and lack of employment and savings on the loan application, completely "forgetting" not only Joan's good credit and employment history, but also her brother, their co-signer. In other words he deliberately sabotaged the transaction. Then, instead of renegotiating a better price for the home or even advising me they didn't want the home before the closing date, they refused to speak to me and
sued me for their deposit.

Lorne's claim was that he couldn't afford the price. But the home was going to be Joan's, not his – he had no plan to marry her, and she had earlier confided in me privately that she didn't intend for him to live in the home with her – and she offered the price, not I. She could have offered me $5,000, but didn't. The judge awarded them the $1,000 plus court costs, which I paid, and I even added a little extra money for Joan. Then Lorne sued me again for more money and I told Joan how suing me worked against their best interests and that they should stop the lawsuits.

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Joan could have had a lovely first home, completely paid for, completely furnished with appliances, linens, dishes, etc., for herself and her baby for the $5,000 she had in the bank. Her only expenses would have been the $200 monthly lot rent, $600 combined annual property taxes and her own utilities which would have allowed her to save a considerable amount of her income for her baby's future. She planned to rent out the second bedroom and bath to a friend for extra income. And if, after a few months, she decided she didn't want the home, I would have already introduced her to Jake. Joan could have sold it to Jake when he returned in 4-5 months and not only recovered her original purchase price, but made an additional $10,000 cash profit.

But... too young to recognize kindness, she allowed Lorne to sue me, thus depriving herself of a gift that would have delighted me to give her. And I was deprived of having Joan as a friend and getting to know her little baby. So much for my generosity and kindness.

The Lessons
1. Don't let the Lornes in this world handle your business affairs. If they don’t have your best interests at heart you may lose out on someone's generosity.

2. Don't be so quick to mistrust and punish when it's not so difficult and far more beneficial to communicate openly. Slamming the door on your benefactor isn’t acting in your own best interests. Being open, curious and asking questions IS in your best interest.

3. Don't let the Closing Date pass without communicating. If you decide you don't want the home after all, say so in writing – even email is acceptable – to be received before the Day of Closing.

4. Suing people and the court cases that follow are a mean-spirited way to do business. You cost people money and destroy goodwill and perhaps even destroy someone's good name and untarnished reputation while you may be the one who dropped the ball.

5. If you can't get financing from your bank, tell the seller. The seller may be able to offer you 3 or 4 more viable options – as I was – like reducing the price, offering owner financing, renting until you gather enough for a healthier down payment, or finding private financing.

6. If this isn't the best time for you to buy and you're under a lot of stress, it's OK to stop the transaction before it goes through. There's no shame in not being ready, and it's kinder to the sellers who can get on with the task of finding a new buyer. Why prolong the inevitable?

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On April 5, the day after my cat Dickens died, I sold the home to Jake for $13,000. The price included 24 sections of 6-foot tall privacy fence, a 1.5 story heated playhouse/shed (it alone is worth $5,000), lawnmower, all my yard tools, queen-size Ikea bed and linens, central air conditioning, water conditioner, fridge, stove, dishwasher, Jacuzzi, heat tapes, dishes, cabinets, top loading/energy efficient washer and electric dryer. I left the community on April 30, 2005, and haven’t been back, or looked back.

Andrea Reynolds is an independent, professional writer who gives how-to advice on income, money recovery, relationships, kindness and creative generosity.
© Copyright Andrea Reynolds. All rights reserved.



© 2012 Andrea Reynolds Contact the author

Self-Defeating Behaviors

These are not past clients of mine, but they should consider ordering this book and booking me to speak to their company, organization or meeting because they all acted against their own best interests:

1. A real estate agent who tinkled in the toilet, and flushed, during her return phone call. I could hear it all. (Erie PA)

2. A
bank manager who refused to let me open an account because she felt anyone from out of town must be a drug dealer. (Girard PA)

3. A
physician who left for lunch while I was left waiting in the reception area. He walked out right in front of me. (Toronto)

4. A
physician who charged me $45 to take my blood pressure and when I asked for an explanation of the charge, he added another $25 charge to my bill... twice. (Girard PA)

5. A
lawyer I retained who failed to show up in court and instead sent his administrative assistant who had never been in a courtroom and who had to ask opposing counsel what she should do next. (Toronto)

6. An
RV dealer who refused to show me the inside of any RV - 3 different attempts - despite the $10,000 check for a deposit in my pocket. (Erie PA)

7. A
dentist who was more interested in providing expensive cosmetic dentistry than finding the cause of my severe mouth pain. (Fairview PA)

8. A
veterinarian who required that I sign a full page release absolving the practice of all blame if anything went wrong with their treatment, but wouldn't let me have a copy of it. (Fairview PA)

9. Eight out of 9
lawyers who never returned my phone call when I tried to hire each one. One of the firms advertised his services on television to generate new business. That advertising was a waste of his money. (Erie PA)

10. A
cashier at a doctor's office made me pay an additional 66% over the doctor's handwritten invoice amount before she would allow me to leave the office. (Erie PA)

11. A
real estate agent who showed me only $40,000 homes - many were damaged and in dangerous neighborhoods - when I said I had $40,000 cash for a down payment. (Erie PA)

12. A
landlord who refused to provide an affordable, non-toxic solution for a wet basement floor, but had money to put into new flooring in the empty unit next door. (Erie PA)

There are more... If you want to know the details,
order my future book or hire me to speak to your organization... I'll spill the beans.

Please note: I give everyone at least one opportunity, sometimes several opportunities, to make things right. I'm always astonished at how many professionals, when confronted with the evidence, choose to do nothing... or get angry.


"Don't paint the door," I said.

Red everywhere

"It's the wrong color of red," I said. "It doesn't match the color I painted the porch light and mailbox." The three men, to whom I was paying but hadn't agreed to hire as a group, were about to spray paint the door. They argued with me.

"It is the same color," they said.

"No, it isn't," I said.

One of them said, strongly, "We don't take orders from you. We take orders from J----. He's the one who pays us."

I thought, silently,
Who do you think pays your boss so he can pay you? And anyway, I'm the Project Manager on this renovation. He takes orders from me. He doesn't overrule me.

They called their boss, the man I did hire originally, and he told them to leave. It was 1:30 on Thursday.

Their boss showed up at 4:30 and said one of the men will return the next day to mud and stomp the kitchen ceiling. I paid for all the man-hours worked up to 1:30 plus an additional 8 hours for the kitchen work on Friday.

When I returned to the house on the weekend I was stunned to discover the storm door was painted a garish red, different from the toned-down red I used on the porch light and mailbox. The empty spray paint cans used were Flaming Red. The one I used for the mailbox and porch light was Regal Red.

The door was one of the last things that I wanted to be done on the house, only after all the important expenses had been covered. It was not a priority on my project sequence list. Getting the bathroom drywall and plumbing done, and kitchen cabinets, plumbing and countertops were my priorities.

But the worst of it was the red spray everywhere: on the floor, on the newly sanded and primed walls, on my box fans, on my clean, beige utility table, on my coffeemaker (coffee for the workers) and on my white, three-drawer, plastic file cabinet. The floor would be covered by new flooring later, but the walls are a different matter. Red is difficult to cover, and I would have to prime the walls again, which requires more time and more paint.

There's more.

Ten feet from the red painted door was a huge piece of vinyl sheeting crumpled up. Why wasn't this used as a drop cloth to confine the spray? Why wasn't the spraying done outside on the ground instead of the living room?

drop cloth


Then I noticed the painter had, with his red fingers, touched the newly mudded and primed kitchen walls in about 20 places, leaving red finger prints. These walls too, would have to be primed again.

I realized then that this was
sabotage... payback for my telling 4 much younger men not to paint the door, not to use the wrong color. This was their immature way of telling me, a woman with a design background, that they didn't have to take orders from a woman.

On Monday morning, I was stunned to see the three men showed up for work! I told them to leave, that I couldn't afford to pay for 4 men, only one. They had been costing me money with their make-work projects like landscaping when, for me, that was budgeted for two to three months down the road. Maybe, if there was any money left.

My Canadian politeness kept me from telling them I was disgusted by their behavior. It's my nature to help others save face. Perhaps that was wrong of me not to say how I felt. Perhaps it was to protect myself from further intimidation by them. Two of the four men were a foot taller than I, they were all stronger than I, they all carried guns, I had witnessed one of the men lose his temper and rage at the other men. And I was outnumbered, four to one.

Then, within an hour they were back to load up all the materials, equipment and tools they had stored in the house. What I realized by this is that their boss, the solo man I originally hired, was also quitting!

That's when I realized I was simply a money source for his unemployed pals. This wasn't a company who cared about their client's priorities; this was a company whose intention was to milk an older woman - a smart, kind woman - out of as much money as possible.

All four are gone now and I've received no apology. While a lot of their work was done well, they did a lot of work that I felt was unnecessary. I also felt they had no concerns for my budget limitations.

I'm wiser now, less trusting, and will find one person at a time to assist me with the work (electric, plumbing, drywall) that I'm unaccustomed and unqualified to do. I will do the painting, which I enjoy. And which, by the way, I was doing professionally before these men were born.


Post script: Today (5-22-14) a carpenter remarked that this act was intentional vandalism. I think so, too.
What do you think?

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Why do I post my experiences? It's not to vent so much as it is to teach professionals what is acceptable and what is not. I want future clients and audiences to be aware that not all people they hire have maturity and integrity... and to stay away from this kind of "professional."

For a list of proper behavior, have a look at my own Code of Conduct on my other site:
HandyAnde.com

Why I'm not a real estate agent

I originally wrote this on November 9, 2009. It will be in my future book, Make An Effort, and I decided it might make a good blog post as well. It's typical of what I experience far too often. (Don't you love that I don't have to go digging for stories for my book? They just keep showing up in my life.)

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In 2009 I took the two Pennsylvania real estate courses in order to educate myself before I did battle with a real estate firm in Canada. One Friday I saw an ad on my local CraigsList from a real estate broker in Erie looking for new agents. I decided to see how good my chances were of associating myself with the agency either as a home stager to help her agents sell properties faster, or a licensed agent.

We met and I shared with her some of my own property selling experience that I could bring to her agency: hosting a real estate radio show, writing a
book on selling homes, working with an author on a book about buying condos, owning a real estate advertising service (which I later sold); selling 3 homes, raw land of my own and a timeshare of my Dad's; studying housing construction, and being a home stager. I not only have a degree in Family and Consumer Science, but also a degree in Business and Marketing and owned my own successful public relations and marketing consulting firm for 30 years. I hoped all this would demonstrate my business skills, what a go-getter I am and how much I could bring to her agency and her company's bank account.

She went on and on about the benefits of
home staging - Great, I thought! She'll ask me to stage her listed homes for bigger profits - and I asked if she would refer me so I could help her agents sell their listed homes faster so I could increase her revenues and at the same time earn enough to cover my licensing exam fees and professional real estate fees (about $2,000).She said NO.

Huh?

Did you get that?
She wasn't willing to let me bring her income faster that would also allow me to cover the expenses required to work for her and earn her even more income.

Instead she told me I should stop writing, consulting, speaking, selling books, and home staging, and go get a $7 an hour retail job working full-time as a
shop girl for a florist or department store. "What?," I thought to myself, "Is she insane?" I was speechless. I simply looked at her and smiled, a frozen smile, but a smile nonetheless. In a store I would earn in one day ($45 after deductions) less than I can earn in 15 minutes as a consultant or a day as a home stager ($450). I was incredulous.

I suspected that her intention was to crush my spirit, but for what purpose I couldn't guess. I haven't worked for that low a wage since I worked to put myself through 6 years of university. That was 4 decades ago. I do far better as an entrepreneur and consultant than as an employee.

Why anyone would want to demean or demoralize a person willing to work hard to share half her (my) earnings is incomprehensible to me. (Real estate agents get 25% of their commissions, as do their brokers.) I can't work for anyone who enjoys crushing the spirit of any human, and certainly not for someone who is blind to the prospect of additional income I could bring her agency.

I didn't tell her - and she obviously didn't take any time to check my former web site as I had suggested - that my PR firm had created high profiles for realtors, among other professionals and specialists, so listings and home buyers would come in faster and in greater volume. So, I may yet decide to re-open the
Personal Public Relations firm I closed a few years ago, and see if any of her competitors would like me to bring them tons of business.

Here's a little more insight: That day was a warm, sunny Saturday, perfect for prospective buyers to see homes for sale. The agency's phones should have been ringing off the hook, but they were silent; there was no staff working at 11 AM, the lights were off throughout the office, and the large parking lot was empty of all cars but mine and my interviewer. What does that tell you? Nobody was signing contracts. And what does it tell you when a firm advertises for new sales people on Craigslist.org? Desperation, maybe? I just don't understand why that broker was working against her own best interests.

What would have a been better scenario? The broker could have given me a trial staging assignment on one of her agency's most shockingly ugly and hard-to-sell homes. No cost to anyone but me. If I helped the agent and broker sell the home fast and for a better-than-asking-price, then I could have expected future referrals and payment until I could afford the fees to become an agent.

Sure, an agent could stage a home herself, but is that wise? Let's say an agent gets a gross commission (before expenses) of $1250 on a $100,000 home. Net might be closer to $850 after paying for office costs, materials and advertising, not to mention auto expenses. Is she really going to provide additional labor (staging/painting, furniture storage, etc.) of $1000 or more to earn that $850 commission? She'd be a fool; that's not profitable. It would have been better to have hired me to do the work, have the seller pay me at the closing, and let the agent enjoy the benefits of my expertise and effort.

I just don't understand why Erie realtors don't get that homes I've worked on sell within no more than 3 weeks at about $10,000 more than expected. Why would any realtor or broker say no? Ironically, I now have the money to become an agent, but can't imagine why I'd want to.

Andrea
Today's blog post is brought to you by my booklet,
Sell Your Mobile Home in 60 Days. (In 2000 I sold mine in 6 days.)

Lost Breakfast

Until mid-June 2011, I lived in a hotel (Country Inn and Suites) where breakfast is served to guests every morning. Keep in mind, I'm a single, older woman who is friendly, and dining alone not by choice.

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One weekend day I found a table near the back corner with one chair. I placed my coffee and a hard-cooked egg on the table to save my place and went to the counter to toast my bagel. When I got back to my table my breakfast was gone and a young girl was sitting in my chair. I asked: "Where did my breakfast go? I was sitting here." The girl just looked at me and said nothing. Her father came over and said he threw it out. I asked: Why? He said he didn't think anyone was sitting there. I just looked at him. (Note: Guests don't leave plates on the tables; they toss out their own refuse in the trash.)

The things that went through my head: Who would throw out a full cup of steaming coffee and an egg? How could hot coffee look abandoned? It irked me that he would throw good food in the garbage. He twice offered to pay for my breakfast. That wasn't the point; breakfast is free to guests, and that was the last egg available. What upset me the most was that he and his daughter took over two empty tables, leaving me with nowhere to sit.

As it was I had no breakfast and no place to sit. I grabbed another cup of decaf from the lobby and went back to my room. I did have some bread in my little bar fridge so I improvised a second breakfast for myself.

What could he have done to rectify the situation? He could have apologized - he didn't - and he could have invited me to sit down to eat breakfast with him and his family. That's what I would have done had the situation been reversed; not throw money at the person I hurt to make them go away. That just adds insult to the injury.

When you do something to screw up, say you're sorry and then do something gracious and generous depending on what you have deprived the other person. Inclusion is kinder than exclusion.

Today's blog post is brought to you by my booklet,
The Bed & Breakfast Guest Etiquette Quiz in e-booklet and print format. Have a look; it's on my book publishing site, Bitango Books.

PNC Bank

Originally published: October 15, 2010

On June 30, my 90-year-old father - whose dementia brought me back to the US - wrote me a check so I wouldn't be homeless, and his check bounced. PNC Bank, without my consent, allowed two small purchases totaling less than $15 to go through despite my not having enough money in my account. I was overdrawn by $1.13. As soon as I knew the situation - within 24 hours - I put cash into my account to cover my purchases. PNC Bank then proceeded to add penalty upon penalty amounting to almost $230.12, and then closed my account. They have since turned this matter over to collection calling it a debt. I call it a penalty for being jobless and homeless in order to be caregiver to an elderly parent.

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In my conversations with two PNC branch managers, I asked one (Interchange Rd. near Erie's Millcreek Mall) if I could park in her parking lot at night to sleep in my van since I had nowhere else to go. She said NO. Her lack of compassion and unwillingness to be helpful was dumbfounding; I've been a good customer for more than 12 years.

Not only was I suddenly penniless, so I couldn't rent a room or book myself into a hotel, but PNC would not redeposit the check nor return it. Three-and-a-half months later they were still holding my father's check. By closing my account I could no longer access statements in order to accurately do my 2010 income tax. (On September 16 I also lost all data on my laptop in a storm, so the bank statements I had downloaded were gone.)

I didn't know then that if I had held the check back from deposit for one day the check would not have been returned. I visited my father's bank, First National Bank, and couldn't get any assistance or information because I didn't have Power of Attorney over my father's financial affairs. (I did later.) At the time I asked if I could put enough of my own money into my father's account to be able to cash the check. They said no. I later learned that $27 would have made his check good. I could easily have done that, saving myself several hundred dollars in penalties and a crippling blemish on my credit history.

So, by turning my account over to collection, PNC Bank affected my credit history so badly, that, even when I had enough money to rent an apartment of my own, I was denied a place to live and would continue to be homeless. And because PNC reported this to the credit bureaus I couldn't open an account at any other banks, not even in my father's name when I did have POA over his affairs.

And did you know that PNC Bank received a $7 million dollar bailout from the US government (i.e. taxpayers like you and me)? This is how they show their gratitude?

My book,
Make An Effort will reveal the response to my letter.

Andrea

Yes, there is an Update/Conclusion to this case. It will appear in my
forthcoming book, Make An Effort.

The 30-second visit

The man on the TV commercials came by 30 minutes ahead of schedule. His first words were, "I bet you regret taking on this renovation." I said, "No, what I regret is that it's been hard finding people who can do quality work. That's why I called you."

He walked past me toward the kitchen and said, "This is too big a project for us to take on. But thanks for thinking of us." And he turned around and walked out. He never bothered to see the house or see the list I typed up just for him.

He was in and out the door in 30 seconds. I was stunned. No handshake hello or goodbye. Perhaps he thought (wrongly) that I didn't have the money to finish the project or that this home wasn't in the right neighborhood for him. He'll never know who I am, who I know, what I know, or what opportunities he will miss out on that I can provide.

Of course, it's acceptable to turn down a prospective client if you think there isn't a good fit, but don't be so brusque that you miss out on something you may want down the road. I doubt if I'll call his company for the third house I may buy and renovate.

What could he have done instead? You'll find out in the
book I'm writing, Make An Effort.