“THE SIGN POLICE”

From the very beginning, bandit signs have played a huge role in my success. I wish I knew exactly how many plastic, handwritten signs I’ve had hammered onto telephone poles in my career. It has to be some amazingly huge number, and, in all my years, I can only remember getting fined once!

Getting fined by the sign police is not a random act. You can count on trouble when you inadvertently buy a house where a city council member or one of their relatives live. Heaven forbid you need to sell a home in the same neighborhood where a code enforcement employee lives. That’s like hitting the bandit sign police lottery! But for the most part, it’s only the wealthy that complain about bandit signs. We’ve learned to handle upscale neighborhoods differently than we do in the lesser parts of town.

You have to use your head a little. Don’t go putting up a bandit signs on all seven telephone poles at a major intersection; it looks gaudy! Get off the main pathways. Spread the signs out.

Target the places you know every person in the neighborhood is going to go before the week is over; the grocery store, the prominent gas station, the school, McDonald’s or Burger King, the car wash, etc., etc. 

Unaware, I once bought a house that sat right across the street from a city council member. The place was a wreck! The owner had died, and all the evidence lead to one blatantly obvious conclusion; whoever owned the place was mentally unstable and a hoarder of the first degree. The filth was over the top. I can’t even imagine being in that house longer than it took to decide to buy it, but I will say this about the poor person that lived there for many, many years, “They were a testament to the human body and just how much it can take.”

The roaches and mice and rats never had it so good. And the cats…oh my gosh the cats! They were gone buy the time I arrived on the scene, but there must have been at least a dozen of them, judging by the amount of hair, urine, and cat crap piles.  

As I recall, I had purchased the house for about $25,000 plus I had to pay about $15,000 in back taxes. Then I spent about $40,000 getting the place put back together and ready to sell.

It started out as an old and filthy house, but the bones were good, and it cleaned up really nice! I remember being able to see my reflection in the wooden floors, they were so shiny. New everything…from countertops and vanities to windows, doors, and toilets…even the roof was new. I price the house at $120,000 and jumped right into the selling phase. That where the trouble started.

I did my normal routine. I put out about 20 to 30 bandit signs in and around the neighborhood and one in the front yard of course. I think a few days went buy when I got a summons from the city code violations department; the sign police. It seemed to me they wanted to fine me $500 for each sign I put out and although I’m not really good at math, I knew that was not a fine I was going to enjoy paying.

First comes the fear, then comes the anger, and then comes the plan. The fine was potentially big so it did scare me at first. Then I thought about what I had done for that community and I started getting mad as Hell! Then I calmed down and started to rationalize my argument to the powers that be. I was going to represent myself in the case of Stephen vs. the city of San Antonio but hopefully it wouldn’t get that far.

I figured out who the council member was for that district and called her. When she answered I asked her if she was familiar with the neighborhood my house was in. She said she was very familiar with that neighborhood because she lived in it…and come to find out, she has lived across the street from my house for over four decades.

At this point I have no doubt in my mind this woman is the reason I’ve received the summons, but I proceed without accusing her of such. I informed her that I was the owner of that house across the street and that I had gotten a summons to appear in court for the signs I had out around her neighborhood. The wall went up immediately. She is not very cordial and speaks to me with an air of authority over me. I try to make friends with her over the phone.

ME: How long has that house been in disrepair?

COUNCIL WOMAN: Over 10 years.

ME: Wow! It must have been hard to live across the street from that for all those years.

COUNCILWOMAN: Yes! It was horrible! Mr. Johnson was a good neighbor for many years, but he got old and started having problems.

ME: Yes, there were a lot of problems in that house. There are some things you need to know about that place, especially since you live across the street.

I chose my words very carefully. I was trying to appeal to the councilwoman’s curiosity and purposely led as if there was a particular problem…as if I’d discovered nuclear waste buried in the back yard, or the bones of several children in boxes in the attic. We set an appointment to meet the next day.

When I arrived at the newly renovated house, I was met by the council woman and a small entourage of low level staff that deemed themselves to be very important. I am sure she was uneasy given the fact that she was most likely the reason I had been summoned to appear in court. I quickly assessed she’d brought them along as protection and/or insulation should I become aggressive. I invited them to move off the street and into the front yard. I introduced myself to everyone and made sure to give the council woman kudos for being so personally involved in her district. My smile was cordial, and my charm dispenser was set on its highest setting. It was game on!

ME: I am glad you all have taken the time to meet with me today. I think you are going to learn something that is vital and important to your community and to the voters in your district, but first things first…Mrs. Council Woman, would you please tell us what this house looked like for the past decade?

The council woman took an extremely long time to explain and went into a detailed history of the neighborhood and the house in question, trying to somehow weave the conversation into why she, herself, was so vital to the community. Her little minions were duly impressed, incessantly nodded their heads “yes” the entire time.

ME: Do you happen to know how much Mr. Johnson owed in back taxes when I bought the property?

In two seconds I knew she didn’t have a clue, but she made a blatant guess…

COUNCILWOMAN: Yes, as I recall Mr. Johnson owed about three or four thousand.

ME: Well, unfortunately he owed a little bit more than that. I have a copy of the delinquent statement stating and he owed exactly $14,917. 86 at the time of my closing…which I paid at the closing.

I handed a copy of the document to the head minion who passed it around the group and then finally to the council woman.

I invited them inside the house. Upon their entrance they could not hide their true response, it just sort of came out. They were wide eyed and very impressed one said, “This is beautiful!” and one blurted out “Wow!” Yet another said out loud, “I could definitely live here!”

I gave the group a chance to wander through every room and then asked them if we could gather in the living room. I put the council woman at the center of attention but made sure not to put her on the spot.

ME: So, Mrs. Council Woman, I know this in NOT your job…but do you happen to know what the property tax assessment on this property when I bought this house?

COUNCILWOMAN: No. I don’t know what this house was assessed at…but I do know what mine is assessed at. Mine is assessed at $85,000.

ME: Well, when I bought this house it was assessed at $27,000, but I have it up for sale for $120,000 and when it sells that will be the new property tax assessment value.

Let me explain WHY that is so important to your district. You see, when I bought this house the tax being collected was just $800 per year. Now that this house has been renovated, the new owner will be paying over $2,500 per in property tax. I’m sure everyone here understands how vital that extra $1,700 per year is to the schools this money goes to support – right?

That’s important money to this community isn’t MRS Council Woman?

COUNCILWOMAN: You bet it is! Every penny counts.

ME:
So here is the reason I bring you here today. As you know, I have been summoned to court and face a potential fine for putting out bandit signs to sell this house. But I think most people may not be looking at what we, as private house buyers, accomplish for our communities we work in.

Do you see where I – in full – paid the past due taxes? This district was deprived of this money for years and years and I made sure that money got where it needed to be! To the tune almost $15,000? That’s very important isn’t is Mrs. Council Woman?

COUNCILWOMAN: Yes. It is very important!

ME: …and look here at this…do you see where I spent tens of thousands of my own money to improve this property? Do you see that the improvement I alone have made have increased the annual income of this district by $1,700 per year?

The entire group is now nodding their head “yes” in my direction.

ME: I don’t do this just once a year.  I remodel 10 or 12 houses per year…just like this. It’s almost always the same story give or take a few dollars. Imagine if I catch the taxes up on 12 houses per year to the tune of $15,000 per house…that’s $180,000 per year to the district!

…and let’s calculate that I increase the annual income $1,700 per year on each house…that’s an increase of $20,400 per year…and that potentially goes on forever!  

COUNCILWOMAN: Yes…that is quite a difference you’re making!

ME: So, here’s my problem; Why do you want to fine me for the plastic signs that get help get this done? It seems to me, home fixers like me should be getting a plaque for the tremendous services we provide, but instead we get called into court and threatened with fines. Isn’t there something we can do Mrs. Council Woman?

COUNCILWOMAN: What can I do?

ME: How about this! I’ll promise to take down all my signs the minute the house is sold, and you take this copy of my summons to your friends down at the city and get them to drop this summons. Is that fair?

And with that, the sign police let me off the hook. I sold the house. I made a huge profit, and I paid some poor soul to remove all my signs from the area…yet another economy moving service provided by yours truly!

Click Here for my Podcast

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-Mitch

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