Service of a Potentially Hidden Hurdle to Sell a House

October 21st, 2019

Categories: Big, Historic, Landmark, Real Estate

photo: homestratosphere.com

I prefer old to new homes and am distressed to learn when a historic home hits the dust.

But a twist unearthed by Wall Street Journal reporter Kris Frieswick in “When a Home Is Suddenly Called ‘Historic’” gives me pause about buying one with history. Her subhead tells it all: “Historic designations are becoming controversial as third parties seek landmark status on a home, often against the homeowner’s wishes, as a way to block demolition or development of a property.”

askbelmontcitizens.wordpress.com

She wrote about one couple who was on the cusp of selling their St. Petersburg, Fla. home and had made an offer on another when out of the blue they received a certified letter that put the brakes on their sale. They needed a last piece–a demolition permit–to close the deal to the purchaser, a developer planning to tear it down.

The next door neighbor had alerted the local Community Planning and Preservation Commission and filled out an application to give their home a historic property designation which froze the sale until the City Council approved it or rejected the demolition block put on it.

Photo: dcurbanmom.com

“Potential buyers of property in an established historic district can learn before a purchase what changes are subject to oversight by a historic commission. But with third-party application, when anyone in a community can request a historic designation on a property at any time, homeowners wishing to demolish or significantly renovate the exterior of their home could be stopped by restrictions they never bargained for.”

I’ve seen once beautiful neighborhoods destroyed by people with little taste and fat wallets who demolish charming, vintage smaller homes tucked into stunning landscaping grown over years only to fill almost the entire lot with a monstrosity [photos top, right and left]. The originals were not historic homes but replacing them with giant eyesores bereft of mature perennials, trees and bushes is nonetheless visually criminal in my opinion.

Do you support the concept of a third-party application to a preservation commission about a neighbor’s home that can delay or stop a sale? I empathize with neighbors who fight to maintain the charm of where they live. At the same time I sympathize with someone anxious to sell.

Should a homeowner refuse to sell to a developer or individual planning to tear down a place with significance to a community? Shouldn’t people avoid buying such a home in the first place if they want the flexibility to sell to any and everyone?

 

 

Photo: appuntiturisimo.it

 

Service of Calling a Spade a Spade

October 17th, 2019

Categories: Authenticity, Fake, Farmers, Faux Food, Food, Spade a Spade, Substitutes

Photo: Steamit.com

I can’t sell a ring with glass in the setting and call it a diamond; I can’t call a synthetic textile cashmere, linen or silk no matter what it looks or feels like.

So why is it OK for the substitute milk producers to call their oat, almond or coconut alternatives milk?  And what about the food fiddlers who use the meat word to ID their plant-based alternatives?

Photo: Nexgrill.com

In “Dairy, Beef Products Fight for Shelf Space with Plant-based Alternatives,” Wall Street Journal reporters Heather Haddon and Jacob Bunge write about what cattle ranchers and dairy farmers are doing about it.

They wrote: “Now, cattle ranchers and dairy farmers are starting to push back. Trade groups representing meat and milk producers said Monday they are ramping up marketing to underscore the difference between their cattle-made products and new rivals made from soy, almonds and peas. Plant-based replacements make up just 1% of the U.S. meat market by volume, Nielsen said.” [Nielsen the polling company.]

Photo: timesunion.com

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association “also want legal limits on the ability of plant-based producers to call their products milk or meat. This year 45 bills have been introduced in 27 states that seek to police the labeling of plant-based products and cell-cultured meats, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration held a hearing last month on how to update dozens of labeling standards governing food products, including plant-based meats.”

The FDA is currently reviewing 13,000 comments that chime in on whether meat and milk can appear on packaging. One of the advocates for plant-based substitutes for meat thinks it’s unfair to bring the government into the discussion.

I think it’s simple: if it’s not meat or cow [or goat’s] milk the manufacturer shouldn’t use the words meat or milk in labeling and marketing. Your thoughts?

Photo: youtube

Service of Mixed Messages: Where A Spot Of Bother May Be a Catastrophe

October 14th, 2019

Categories: Holiday Sales, Mixed Messages, Song, Story, Understate

Mixed Messages. Photo: likoma.com

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal reminded me of a song my father introduced me to when I was a kid: “Tout Va Très Bien Madame La Marquise,” by Ray Ventura which in English is “Everything’s very fine my lady.”

That’s the refrain too–which we’d sing at the top of our lungs along with Les Compagnons de la Chanson, a mid 20th century French vocal group.

In fact, in this song’s story, nothing is fine.

Les Compagnons de la Chanson Photo: compagnonsdelachanson.eklablog.com

The song begins when Madame M calls her employee, James, to ask what she’ll find on her return home. James tells her that a little something happened, a bit of bother, and he admits that her gray mare is dead.

The chorus returns with all’s well and she learns next that the mare died when the stables burned down. Again the chorus with assurances and “a little nothing” after she asks how that happened and we learn in subsequent verses that the stable caught fire after the chateau collapsed in flames started when the Marquis committed suicide and in doing so he knocked over the candelabra that started the fire. The song ends: “Mais, à part ça, [but apart from that] Madame la Marquise, Tout va très bien, tout va très bien.”

Back to Sarah Nassauer’s article, “Retailer Group Predicts Robust Holidays, but Sounds Warning.”

That’s putting it lightly. What else would you expect the National Retail Federation [that reps stores such as Macy’s and Wal-Mart] to predict? And what might these potential flies in the ointment be?

Photo: nrf.com

Nassaueur wrote “global political and economic uncertainty could erode consumer confidence and spending.” Under normal circumstances we might shrug and move on. Trouble is nothing is normal. From one to another day the administration threatens or causes a war somewhere and sprinkles trade tariffs around like spots on a Dalmatian.

The retail federation’s president Matthew Shay ID’d consumer confidence, rising wages and low unemployment on the plus side for holiday sales and on the minus: economy growing slower than in 2018 and “considerable uncertainty around issues including trade, interest rates, global risk factors and political rhetoric.” A potential spot of bother, right?

A financial advisory firm’s research report also anticipates higher holiday retail sales and at the same time admits “the buzz of an oncoming recession is getting louder.”

Nassauer reported “The Trump administration has imposed tariffs on the majority of goods imported from China, with some to take effect later in the holiday season on consumer goods including toys and apparel.” The administration expects to impose tariffs on food and “other goods” from the European Union.

Altogether now: What do people give or buy most during the holidays? Toys, apparel and food.

“‘None of these retailers want to pass on cost to consumers if they can avoid it,’ said the retail federation’s Mr. Shay. But if cost increases because of tariffs spread to more categories of goods in the coming weeks and months, he said, ‘tariffs certainly could make an impact.’ ”

Do you see the similarity to the approach to these predictions and the Tout Va Très Bien song?  Nassauer bent over backwards to present a balanced article but the warnings are too many and too loud and I wouldn’t count any holiday retail dollar chickens just yet–would you?

Photo: observerbd.com

Service of Swindlers You Invite Into Your Life

October 10th, 2019

Categories: E-Commerce, E-tailing, Internet, Internet Security, Scams

Photo: finncialtribune.com

I’ve frequently covered scams that bombard us all. Just called DHL to report an email scam. Customer service confirmed that it was and that the company never sends attachments in emails. Good to know.

I keep getting an email supposedly from USAA in collaboration with the credit reporting service Experian telling me to click for a report. The USAA logo was out of register–a tip. Friends have turned off their phones they are so tired of robo calls that are up to no good. Fake Con Edison and Nielson have a crush on my home phone.

More chilling are the scams we reach out to. I’m so paranoid that I’m hesitant to download an online calendar. Once viruses galore infected my computer when I downloaded a faux AVG program–ironic as the real AVG attacks viruses!

Yuka Hayashi wrote “Scammers Find More Opportunities on Internet Marketplaces–Craigslist, eBay and social-media platforms are more lucrative than robocalls for fraudsters, study finds.”

Photo: bbb.org

According to Hayashi: “The study, conducted jointly by the consumer-education arms of Better Business Bureau and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority along with the Stanford Center on Longevity, was based on interviews of 1,408 consumers in 2018 who filed a fraud tip or report to the BBB between 2015 and 2018.” She reported: “Consumers filed 372,000 fraud complaints to the Federal Trade Commission reporting a total loss of $1.5 billion in 2018, with the number of complaints up 34% from 2017, according to tallies by the report’s authors.”

In addition, “On social media, 91% of the respondents said they initially failed to recognize fraudulent advertisements as scams and proceeded to engage, and 53% eventually lost money. On websites, 81% of respondents engaged and 50% lost money.”

Most are “online purchase” scams, Hayashi reported from Craigslist or eBay. Sellers get fake checks and then the scammer asks for a refund of an overpayment or the con either never sends goods or produces products of poor quality.

“Nearly half, or 47%, of the people who reported encountering online purchase scams lost money, compared with other prevalent types of schemes like “tech support” scams, where 32% reported losing money, and sweepstakes/lottery scams, where 15% became victims.”

Tahoe 2150 Deck Boat. Photo: pinterest.com

One woman in the article lost $16,400 for a Tahoe deck boat that never came. She should have been suspicious, she told Hayashi, because she ignored the signs. While the consignment website she found through Craigslist was sophisticated, “a wire transfer that initially failed to go through and the lack of listing on yelp” were clear warnings. The website no longer exists.

We knew it wouldn’t be long before crooks invaded these businesses. The sites become so big policing them is impossible. Ebay claims it does. Craigslist didn’t respond to Hayashi.

When you identify a swindle, do you report it to the company or to the Better Business Bureau? Have you fallen for one you reached out to or clicked on? Have you thought twice recently before buying anything on sites such as Craigslist and eBay? Do you think it will eventually impact this way of doing business to benefit traditional retail and offline sales vehicles?

Photo: iconfinder.com

 

 

Service of When Should an Organization Give Back Tainted Money?

October 7th, 2019

Categories: Donations, Money, Scams, School, University

Photo: moneymastery.com

By now most have heard about the wealthy parents who in all spent $25 million to ensure their offspring were accepted to US colleges. Some faked athletic expertise and others had someone fiddle with their kids’ SAT and ACT scores. William “Rick” Singer was the mastermind/broker who hid behind his Key Worldwide Foundation.

Coaches who played ball gave some of the money to their athletic departments according to Louise Radnofsky in her Wall Street Journal article, “Many Colleges That Got Money Tainted by Admissions Scandal Still Have It –Unlike political campaigns which routinely return controversial donations, colleges are holding funds.”

Photo: web.stanford.edu

According to Radnofsky there are no rules that cover colleges under these circumstances. A former education policy aide to the Democratic party said while he’d wished that low-income students had been given the money, he thought that the decision of what to do was up to prosecutors and courts–not the schools. Most–not all–of Radnofsky’s examples show that schools made that decision.

“Stanford University, the University of Southern California, the University of Texas at Austin and Wake Forest University were directly identified by federal prosecutors as recipients of payments made by Mr. Singer or his clients, sometimes through his charity in connection with specific admissions,” she wrote.

Wake Forest University. Photo: wfu.edu

Radnofsky added that Stanford is in touch with the California attorney general to pass on the approximately $770,000 that Singer directed to the sailing program. The sailing coach pleaded guilty to accepting the money.

“USC said that ‘because of the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation, we are unable to discuss details related to it.'” The university may have received as much as $1.3 million, and its water-polo program was enriched with $250,000 more.

University of Texas received money in 2015 which it used to renovate its tennis facilities.

Wake Forest redirected $50,000 to its Magnolia Scholars program for first-generation college students. Its volleyball program was the original recipient of most.

Chapman University [$400,000] is waiting on the California attorney general to approve its donation to organizations “focused on helping at-risk youth and low-income students gain access to higher education.”

DePaul University, where Singer’s son graduated, is not returning its $150,000.

Two colleges– Georgetown and the University of Miami–identified as involved from public tax records said they found no link to Singer for any donations. NYU’s athletics law firm is still reviewing the circumstances around $338,379 donations. “Representatives for Baruch College, listed as a recipient of $50,000 in 2015, didn’t respond to emails and telephone inquiries about the money.”

Should colleges donate their ill gotten gains to student-focused charities? Should they keep the money?

Photo: depaulbluedemons.com

Service of Logos that Give the Wrong Message: They Don’t Communicate

October 3rd, 2019

Categories: Communications, Logos, Mistakes, Spelling

Photo: Deirdre Wyeth

You can’t read some logos and others give the wrong message. One awning featured a spelling error. You’d think folks would take better care of these crucial and basic marketing tools.

 

Deirdre Wyeth posted on Facebook the logo above that advertised a nail and spa salon in her neighborhood. Its name remains a mystery as it’s impossible to decipher the script.

I followed a friend to a restaurant bar on Manhattan’s west side to hear jazz and as I entered, I couldn’t decode its name on the awning in the time it took to slip inside. The orange card–photo right–with its disturbing italic font provides a clearer clue [but is it Sugar or Suggr?].

I felt sorry for the bistro on the upper east side that the windows indicate didn’t make it. I snapped a shot of the awning [photo left] from the bus. The logo for “Le Paris” was OK but the owner of the supposedly French restaurant didn’t know how to spell bistro. Maybe the chef didn’t know how to make French bistro fare any better than the owner knew how to spell a standard French word.

The captions were as funny on the “Bad logos” post on firstwedesigner.com as the logos are faulty. For the dentist’s logo [above right] the author wrote: “That looks like a lot more going on than your regular cleaning if you ask me.” And another logo, for The Detail Doctor, stood out from the many on the website[below]. The caption: “Based on the sketch of this car, seems like this doctor needs a better understanding of the word detail.”

Do you think that poor logos happen when a business owner hires his/her kid, friend or in-law to save money?  Have you seen memorably bad ones?

 

 

 

 

 

Service of a Cheating Heart: Match in Dutch with the FTC

September 30th, 2019

Categories: Cheating, E-Commerce, Love, Online Dating, Scams

Photo: quora.com

I had a crush on a boy in 11th grade. One of the girls I thought was a friend told me he’d asked about me when it turned out she’d made it up. I never trusted her after that [and clearly I never forgot]. The takeaway: Don’t fool around in matters of the heart if you want to keep a friend.

Match.com executives, adults I assume, never learned that lesson if the Federal Trade Commission [FTC] is on to something.

Photo: medium.com

Dave Sebastian wrote “FTC Sues Match for Allegedly Tricking Users With Fake Ads– Online-dating platform allegedly offered certain guarantees but failed to provide promised services” in The Wall Street Journal.

The most damming allegation in the article was far worse than scamming people to join up and not giving them an easy way out. Match.com dangled hope to the lovelorn when there was none. “Until May 2018, Match sent emails to nonsubscribers that said someone had expressed interest in them, according to the FTC. But consumers, many of whom ended up purchasing the subscriptions, were unaware that the emails received could be from scammers, the FTC said in its complaint.”

Photo redbubble.com

And then Sebastian added: “The FTC said Match found that nearly 500,000 subscriptions were purchased within 24 hours of receiving an advertisement touting fraudulent communication between June 2016 and May 2018.”

Sebastian quoted the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Andrew Smith who told him: “We believe that Match.com conned people into paying for subscriptions via messages the company knew were from scammers. Online dating services obviously shouldn’t be using romance scammers as a way to fatten their bottom line.’ ”

Match owns Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid and other dating sites. I know people who have made magnificent matches via online dating services and am heartbroken to read that the mother company felt it had to cheat. If I’ve been to two weddings of couples who met this way and know several others with longtime relationships, didn’t a successful pioneer in this business have enough case histories to promote its services legitimately?

Have you tried an online dating service? Did it work out for you? If you never have, does knowing this make you be less likely to give it a try? Does it bother you that one of the top services cheated to get customers or is it par for the course for all businesses these days and worthy of no more than a big shrug?

Photo: familytree.com

Service of Pride of Place: NYC My Hometown

September 26th, 2019

Categories: Irritating, Love, New York City, Transportation, Travel

View from my apartment

Considering I was born in NYC, have lived here most of my life and I love the place I’m surprised that in the 11 years I’ve written this blog the city hasn’t grabbed even more lines.

New York is like anything or anyone I love: it makes me burst with pride and yet it can irritate me as well.

I was giggling in a Seventh Avenue subway recently because of the conductor’s quirky comments. As he announced each stop he also identified a lineup of key landmarks–which is unusual–and his comments were clever and refreshing. When I got out at 72nd Street heading for the stairs, as the car with his cubby passed me, I gave him a thumbs up. He smiled in response and tooted his horn twice. Made my day.

On the other hand, I don’t always have such luck with the bus system. Astronomical waits on major arteries and avenues followed by a clump of busses is trying. [If you live and work as far east as I do, the walk to the subway–my usual transportation option–doesn’t always make sense especially if your destination is also way east.]

In addition, identifying where the bus stop is can be a challenge. Last weekend I watched a local bus sail by on Madison Avenue as I stood next to a bus shelter [photo right]. Guess the shelter at that spot was decorative and had nothing to do with a NYC bus.

Bryant Park

When the subway’s executives whine about lack of funds, it comes as a surprise to see a very long line outside a booth with two windows and mics and only one MTA worker in it–as at a crucial hub: Grand Central/42nd Street. I was in that line recently and a tourist, staying at the Roosevelt Hotel I learned as we chatted, asked me in her charming Scottish accent: “Why is there only one worker in that booth?”  Good question given that 98 percent in the line were buying MetroCards. The do-it-yourself kiosks had even longer lines. Me to the MTA: Consider adding a few more kiosks where people are spending money, OK?

I’ve bragged previously about Bryant Park where I love to eat lunch. Once needle park, today the space welcomes locals and tourists who bring food–or buy a snack at a local takeout. There are plenty of trees, tables and chairs and a brisk turnover so it’s easy to find a spot.

I have an argument with restaurants and small retail businesses located on avenues here. Dollars to donuts they don’t identify the cross streets on their websites and it drives me NUTS figuring it out. Shakespeare & Co. does it right. They are at 939 Lexington Avenue and on the web they add “between 68 and 69th Streets.”

What is it about your town or city–or about NYC–that you love and what exasperates you?

 

Bryant Park

Service of Plus ça Change, Plus C’est la Même Chose–Redux

September 23rd, 2019

Categories: Communications, Holistic, Jargon, Public Relations

Photo: saladcreative.com

Before a significant launch, a client invited the marketing experts who promoted his product to his conference room in the Pacific Northwest. He wanted us to hear and see others’ plans, to tweak ours if necessary, and eventually to coordinate and amplify the marketing effort to ensure we were all singing the same song. I was there for public relations and there was someone from direct marketing, advertising, graphics, customer service and so forth. My client was the puppeteer pulling the strings. It was years ago.

While he didn’t give it a fancy name–nor did he have access to the bells and whistles we now do–some 2019 jargon lovers might call what he did “360 degree marketing.”

Photo: quora.com

Its offspring is 360 degree digital marketing that too-frequently falls off the lips of [trying to be] hip PR folks these days. Here’s how Wheelhouse Advisors explains it: “a 360 degree approach is all about taking a broad and all-encompassing view of your entire customer journey, from discovery to purchase, across multiple devices and touch points.” Sound familiar?

Wheelhouse listed the basics [the words in parentheses are mine]: “SEO [Search Engine Optimization]; PPC [pay per click]; Customer Communications; Website; Content; Social [LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube]; Inbound Lead Nurturing and Outbound Email.”

The longer I’m in business the more I slap my head when I see decades-old strategies dressed up in buzz simply because a few more communications elements have been added. Clients went berserk when the web was in its infancy, tossing all their marketing dollars at their websites, leaving none to promote where to find them. [Customers with no access to the web at that time were briefly kicked to the curb.]

Photo: kakenzie.com

Another popular word that marketers love lately–borrowed from the world of medicine–is “holistic.” An awful like “360 degree” to me, and what primo marketers have been trying to achieve all along. In fact, if some businesses are zeroing in exclusively on 360 degree digital marketing today they are making a gargantuan mistake. You know who you are.

Are there attempts in your industry to dust off the old and give it a fresh coat of paint–I mean words–to make it seem cutting edge simply because some of the tactics have changed? Is it only the insecure, hip-prone marketing world that falls for/sells this gobbledygook based on the premise everything we do must seem new?

Photo: memegenerator.net

 

Service of Appearances Matter But Pick Your Battles Carefully When Contesting Questionable Choices

September 19th, 2019

Categories: Appearances, Greed, Politicians, Politics, Reputation

Glasgow Prestwick Airport
Photo: glasgowprestwick.com

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings picked an example that, at first blush, looked like the Trump organization was yet again driving–and profiting from–government business at one of its properties while the head of the family ran the country. Digging deeper, while the situation doesn’t look right, the severity of the malfeasance is feeble at best.

Brigadier General Edward Thomas spoke with Lalita Clozel and Joshua Jamerson for their Wall Street Journal article “Air Force Reviews Travel Policies Amid Scrutiny Over Trump Resort –Aircrew’s March stay at Scotland resort followed guidelines, Air Force says; House Democrats probe the expenditures.”

Brigadier General Edward Thomas. Photo: af.mil

The general didn’t address the issue of the property’s owner. He said “U.S. Service members lodging at resort accommodations, even if within government rates, might be allowable but not advisable.”

The general added: “We are not only stewards of American tax dollars but we represent our nation as we travel abroad.”

The fact is that the crew spent $30 less than the maximum hotel per diem allowed at the Trump Turnberry golf resort which is some 40 minutes from Glasgow Prestwick Airport. In addition, the reporters wrote that it was the cheapest option.

According to Clozel and Jamerson the president tweeted: “I know nothing about an Air Force plane landing at an airport (which I do not own and have nothing to do with) near Turnberry Resort (which I do own) in Scotland, and filling up with fuel, with the crew staying overnight at Turnberry (they have good taste!). NOTHING TO DO WITH ME.”

The reporters continued: “The C-17 plane and its crew were on a multi-leg journey that took them from Anchorage, Alaska, to Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, to Portsmouth, N.H., Glasgow and Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait and then back.”

Prestwick was selected as a refueling location in August 2016, months before Trump was elected, because it has better weather than Shannon, Ireland, is open 24 hours and doesn’t attract a lot of air traffic.

“Since October 2017, the U.S. military has paid the airport hundreds of times for fuel purchases totaling $11 million Cummings said. The U.S. government has also made tens of thousands of dollars in purchases at the Turnberry resort in 2018 and 2019, according to procurement records.

“Both the Scottish government-owned airport and the Turnberry resort have lost money in recent years, Mr. Cummings said in his letter.”

Since no laws or regulations have been broken and the crew spent well under the per diem hotel ceiling, should Representative Cummings look for a better example of the enrichment of the Trump empire while the company’s namesake is in office? Should the Air Force forbid crews from staying at any resort for appearance’s sake? Should there be a regulation prohibiting any government employee from staying at a property owned by a president, cabinet member, senator or congress man or woman?

Boeing C-17 Photo: af.mil

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