morphine & chocolate can bring me up can warm my heart, whenever I want

Subject: As real estate markets continue to display weakness

As real estate markets continue to display weakness, LandAmerica has been exploring strategies for growing the top line as we work to improve the bottom line. Among the strategies examined has been unilateral title rate increases across the nation in an effort to help offset declining revenues and persistently high claims expense. At its analyst conference call last Thursday, Fidelity announced that it has begun to increase prices by 10% to 20% across the country. We have already seen Fidelity’s rate increase announcement in Virginia and expect to learn of many more in the weeks ahead. LandAmerica’s strong position in the marketplace enables us to adopt the following strategy with regard to rate increases:

* For “file and use,” “use and file” and non-regulated rate states, we will quickly follow any Fidelity rate action with our own action, matching the percentage increase targeted by Fidelity. The result will be that our competitive position versus Fidelity will remain unchanged. We expect our overall competitive position will be sustained.
* For rating bureau states, our associates that serve on the bureaus’ boards will immediately seek action by the rating bureau to develop and prepare a rate filing for submission to their state department of insurance (DOI). If any bureau declines to pursue this and we learn that Fidelity (or any other major competitor) has filed on an exception basis for DOI approval of higher rates, we will do likewise.
* For Florida, Texas and New Mexico, where rates and the agent/underwriter division of premium are promulgated by the state, we will work to expedite hearings leading to rate increases and an increase in the underwriter’s share of the total premium. If state action is not prompt and we learn that a major competitor has filed on an exception basis for approval to increase rates, we will do likewise.
As we prepare for these rate filings, we will avoid the temptation to make other changes to our manuals that have been discussed but not acted on; we can follow up later with rate filings that incorporate other improvements. Our clear focus needs to be to file and implement higher rates at the earliest possible date to help turn around current trends in premium income.

Here’s what you can do to help:

* Be alert for news about the Fidelity rate filing in your state(s). As soon as you learn of a filing or rate increase, please forward it immediately to your state counsel, regional counsel and Bruce Wright. The Corporate Pricing team will determine the percentage increase Fidelity is seeking and will work with state counsels to develop higher rates. State counsels will then file for regulatory approval (as needed) of like increases and work with Transaction Services management to communicate and implement our own rate increases promptly.
* If you already know that our rates are lower than Fidelity’s and think we can act now to increase rates by 15% or more (rather than waiting), please notify these same people now.
Increasing our rates will help us improve LandAmerica’s top line and bottom line right away, particularly when done in a manner that preserves our competitive positioning in each marketplace. Thank you for your support of these important pricing actions.

Ken
Ken Astheimer
President
Agency Services
Melissa
Melissa A. Hill
President
Residential Services
Pam
Pam K. Saylors
President
Commercial Services

Talk amongst yourselves.

Forever in debt to your priceless advice

I spend countless hours in my car now.  I’m out in the Brentwood area driving around farm country at least once a week.  I’ve seen more cattle, goats and lambs in the last two months than I’ve probably seen in the previous ten years.  It gives me plenty of time to think.  I don’t always have time to get it posted, but it’s rattling around in my head.  Out in that area, I drive by three closed Alliance Title offices, two of which I built.  I think the furniture is still in them, as if the staff was vaporized to another dimension.  We’ve been talking about the evolution of the business, so today is going to be more like a call for discussion.  I, for one, can’t wait for OldTitleGuy’s perspective.  So, with the new legislation where marketing reps have to be licensed, or registered, or whatever they’re going to call it, and NASCAR Teddy’s plan to eliminate escrow branches and have EO/Marketing Reps….How do you think this is going to evolve?

There’s a crack in the mirror and a bloodstain on the bed

Bloodletting at the Evil Empire

Looks like Bill is making good on his Earnings Call.  Don’t know the actual numbers yet, but they’re deep cuts of real talent.  Yeah, shutting down the overseas crap never crossed their minds.  For those of you who are now finding yourselves out on the street for the holidays, check back through the posts, there’s lots of info on possibilities for getting back to work.

Speaking of getting folks back to work, I’m working on a project that may result in some 1099 work for some title and escrow folks throughout the State.  Fortunately, I’ve been real busy with that realtor thing of mine so I haven’t gotten it completely together yet.  If you’ve got a good technical background in the title business 20+ years title and/or escrow in California and have an interest email the winedog@astound.net  I won’t be getting back to everyone immediately, but hopefully within the next week or so.  (End of month and all) I hope to move it to Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and Colorado once it’s up and running.  That’s all I can say about it right now.

NASCAR Teddy will be announcing Q3 results on November 5 with the call the next morning.  Hoping to get lost in all the election shuffle?  Sorry, we figured that one out here at PBE.  Nice try.  I’ll link to your transcript too.  Of course, everyone knows that this means he’s bleeding money like a stuck pig.  For a guy who swore to be in the black before the end of the year come Hell or high water, I’d consider getting a wet suit.  Looks like very high water.

Party on Bill.   Party on Ted.

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I’m gonna have drink, and walk around

I’m not sure if I should go in chronological order or in the order it falls out of my head today….Let’s start with a Nickel & Nickel tasting. The Pleasant Hill Wine Merchants had Nickel & Nickel down for a tasting on Friday night. Gil Nickel was one of the original principals, prior to his passing. He had been and still was a principle at Far Niente. It was actually founded by the founders of Far Niente… yeah, the guys that brought us Dolce. Anyway, since their debut I’ve been wanting to do a tasting but they only do appointments and that’s a pain in the ass. So to have them just down the hill was pretty cool. Unfortunately, I only liked three of their wines, which I found to be remarkable, considering the tasting included 10 wines, 8 priced near $100 a bottle. Some of them I didn’t have $50 worth of love for. I liked both of their Chardonnays, but found them both to be over priced. The Medina had a lot of grapefruit going on, even in the finish. I thought it would probably be very good with Thai food, but I hate Thai food. (That’s what they always say about those citrusy wines) I thought it would also go very well with prawns, crustaceans, probably swordfish and other heavier fish meals. Overpriced at $45 a bottle. The Truchard was a California style Chardonnay. Big, butter, oaky and a great wine to sit and drink. Still, overpriced at $50 a bottle. For that style of wine, I’d go with the Rombauer. They’ve been doing the big buttery oak thing longer and better than anyone else and their Chard is $32 a bottle. I would be disappointed with Nickel & Nickel’s white selection if their red selection hadn’t been so disappointing. The Suscol Ranch Merlot was a decent merlot, but I sure as hell didn’t have $60 worth of love for it. It had some nice dark plum and was earthy but not much of a finish. The Bonfire Zin didn’t taste like a Zin at all. It wasn’t jammy and it wasn’t peppery. It just wasn’t much of anything for $50 a bottle. For $95 a bottle, you want a Cab that knocks your socks off. You want to go pick up your hat that got knocked in the creek. You don’t want a bunch of green pepper and biting unripe fruit hurting your mouth, but that’s what we got. The Branding Iron was ok, but at $95 a bottle you don’t want ok. I can usually tell where a wine is going to go over time, didn’t get much out of this one. It might as well have been a Coppola from the grocery store. Very sad. The best of the bunch was the John C. Sullenger Oakville Cab. It had nice dark cherries and berries with some spice on it. There was a nice earthy nose and a long finish. I could see that over time this would become a great wine. Someday it would grow up to be a $95 bottle of wine. Someday years in the future. All and all, I was very disappointed with Nickel & Nickel’s offering.

Obiligatory Hellhound Shot

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And a weekend isn’t complete without some jackassery on my part

I’ve been calling myself Farmer Realtor. I’m handling 25 homes for my broker right now. Several of them have lemon trees, so I’ve had a constant source of lemons. One house has tomato plants so I’ve been bringing home tomatoes. The latest acquisition had a pepper plant in the back yard. It was a Hispanic family so I figured that since I didn’t recognize the peppers it must be something they brought from somewhere South of the Border. They weren’t Jalapenos or Habeneros, I’d seen both of them. Scotch Bonnets are yellow, couldn’t be those. So I took one and chopped it finely last night. The plan was to throw some zucchini in with it and have what I thought was going to be a sweet pungent pepper and zucchini saute. As I chopped the pepper I thought the black seeds were a sign of something really bad. I then touched my face and knew they were a sign of something really really bad. While they look innocent enough, they weren’t.

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These, gentle readers, are Scotch Bonnets. The real thunder from down under. The original Jamaican me crazy pepper. Fire. I knew that the zucchini was now probably inedible. So I improvised and threw some diced tomatoes on top of it and prayed to the kitchen gods.

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Pretty huh? I seared some polenta and put the whole mess over it. That’s a grilled pork chop next to it. Then I went through two 25 oz bottles of water and three glasses of wine. All the while knowing that next time I use one of these little devils, I will 1) wear gloves 2) cook Caribbean. That is, incidentally, a perfect Body for Life meal. Perfect sized protein, perfect amount of carbs and Satan’s vegetable saute on top of it all.

And finally, I also got a round of golf in this weekend. It was a scramble which was a good thing. EOinHell’s back solution is helping but I did a lot of damage smacking all those pretty new Calloways a couple of weeks ago. Moving a ton of wood last weekend didn’t help so my follow through was stink-o. Still my 3h ended up being my favorite club. I could totally feel that I was swinging through that club properly. I think with a little practice that slice-o-mine might be sent packing sometime soon.

And final final, I rode up Ygnacio for the first time since I got sick. They’ve been working on it and weekday runs are very scary. An afternoon run when the Raiders are just finishing and the 9ers are starting up is perfect timing. Although I don’t know why anyone is watching either of those teams. Stink-o! Got up the hill in 9:32. Pretty good for having not done it in six weeks. Traffic was light which was good since I had to ride in the traffic lanes for about 50 yards. Yikes! Whole run took 1:07 which is about 7 minutes longer than usual, but I’m pleased with it.

I got forty red white and blue shoe strings

I can’t believe where our society is right now. The Great Uniter was anything but. He was by far the Great Divider. I’m amazed that the abject racism that is now excused away and I’m amazed by the bad behavior of Americans. This 24 hour news thing has certainly brought a lot of loony tunes their 15 minutes of fame. I know my 15 minutes will be coming soon. I just hope I don’t look as stupid as say Joe the Plumber Plant. Or the people in Strongsville, Ohio. Or some of the people in the not so brilliant footage coming out of Kentucky. It’s embarrassing to me to watch these people. I wish they were Canadian or something. (blame Canada) Not American. I wish they weren’t thumping Bibles and waving our flag. It makes me want to distance myself from both. And we’ve seen the return of the Dixiecrat, a guttural political creature whose existence should embarrass every American. Somehow it’s ok to discriminate in America again. Discrimination may never be eradicated in today’s society, but hopefully it can be overcome. After time it will eventually be eradicated. It will be eradicated because 100 years from now there will be no white or black or any other race. We’ll all look like a nice smooth mocha. Or a current Presidential candidate. Then we’ll have to find something else different about each other to point out. And we’ll treat each other differently over that nuance.

I’m appalled at the support of Proposition 8. There should be no support from the party of less government, but there are a lot of State politicians supporting this piece of crap. They are your Dixiecrats. Generally I vote “no” on all Propositions. The State hasn’t had the money to fund any of the Propositions in years so why muck up the works with more lame duck propositions? Once in a while, one needs to go through. Generally I go yes on self funded props that increase education, police or road work. The latter leads me to believe I am my own worst enemy sometimes when I run my milk route. Anywho, the mere fact that it’s being placed as a vote to the people is problematic. If in 1920 the 19th amendment was placed in front of the populace it would not have passed. If in 1968 the Civil Rights Amendment was placed in front of the populace, it would not have passed. I hope that we can all agree that both of these legislations were good and right. Historically the legislation and courts have stepped in to nudge the masses towards what is fair and just. In spite of that women and minorities are still discriminated against today. Gays are another minority that are being discriminated against, and with Prop 8, they will actually be the first to have pre-existing rights removed with a State Constitutional Amendment.

You don’t have to approve of gay marriage, you have to disapprove of discrimination. Prop 8 is discriminatory and wrong. I’m appalled at all of the public officials that believe it’s ok to remove an existing right from a body of constituents and discriminate. It says to me that they have forgotten how to legislate. We spend so much time mucking about with stuff that just doesn’t matter. This is one of them. I guess if you were inclined to blame lawyers for what was wrong in this country, there could be an argument made here, but as The Brother says “If y’all would act right, I’d be out of business.” Nuff said. This has been decided by the courts, it doesn’t need a vote from the people. It’s the politics of fear and hate and I’m really sick of it.

But wait! There’s more!

Here is the FNF earnings call transcript. $198.3 million dollar loss. Talk amongst yourselves. Oh hell, here’s a jumping off point:

We are in the process of reviewing and increasing our filed title insurance rates across the country. To date, we have increased or are in the process of increasing title insurance rates between 15% and 20% in 22 different jurisdictions.

From the company that already had the highest rates…not counting the Little Engine that Could’s insanely high escrow fees….

And we sang dirges in the dark

The Evil Empire announced a reduced dividend yesterday, along with more job cuts. Hey Bill! Don’t be an asshole, suspend the dividend and keep your staff. Let me help you out with simple economics. There are no title jobs out there. So cut title staff and they won’t be making any large purchases, or refinances or even keeping their homes. So you’ll make at best that super special REO rate on the sale. What is that like 35% of basic? I know it’s like one step up from a bag of dog shit burning on your porch next Friday night. Suspend the dividend, keep the staff, buck up for the winter and do what’s right for a change. FNF has taken so much from the community, and quite honestly, FNF is responsible for the current state of title insurance in America. There. I said it. FAF is right behind them. Now it’s time to give back. Do the right thing.

I remember Bill coming into Santa Barbara in the mid 80’s buying that podunk little company I worked for. He came in himself, with some lackeys. That was prior to his purchase of Western Title. Remember those guys? When I was a kid I thought you went to the stationary store and bought note pads that said WT on them. Dad was a realtor, every grocery list of my childhood was written on one of those. Remember them? They were a tan color with dark brown print with the WT in the middle. And the title business was never the same after Bill bought Western. I will always think of Western Title as what was good and right in our business. They were stodgy, but they got it right more often than not. And in this corner in the blue trunks, Title Insurance and Trust Company, TITCO. As big as they were, they did not have the chops to make it in the changing world. Of the people who know how to do what I knew, I know of two who are still working in our area. They probably have a couple left up in Roseville, but those guys don’t have access to the tools to do the job any more. If it can’t be done punching a button, I don’t know that it can be done anymore.

I remember a couple of years ago going down to the Contra Costa County Recorder’s office and searching a strip of land, owned by the railroad, back to the beginning of time. I was touching books that no one had touched in years. I knew it was something special to be back in the old records. We ultimately insured a purchase from the railroad of surplus land they were dumping. In Santa Barbara County a lot of the raw land in the Gaviota area was once owned by Cecil B. DeMille. If you got back to him, you were screwed because there were tons of docs with his name on it, they were all him but it might not be your property. So you had to run out all of the legals with similar preambles. Besides me and e2b, does anyone else know that Bing Crosby owned a ton of land out in Livermore? I love the history that we bump up against. I love pulling the Macs in San Francisco. If you think about it, every Mac represents someone who lived through the earthquake and went down and filed an action to have the court affirm their ownership interest in a piece of property. Some of the land was actually fill where they sunk the ships they arrived on, filled it in and built on it. When I was in Santa Barbara, someone came to me with a proposal. They didn’t need or want title insurance. They wanted an historical title search. The company wouldn’t do it, but I decided to take it on as a per hour gig. The Montecito home they were talking about was haunted. Late at night, with no particular rhyme, reason or pattern, a dinner party would appear in the formal dining room of the home. The participants were dressed in attire that they determined to be from the late twenties, early thirties. They wanted to know who owned the property during that period of time so that they could search through the newspaper archives to see if they could determine why this was occurring. I did the search for them. It was cool. I don’t know what else they found. Whenever I see a newspaper article that says “a title search determined..” I always wonder if the person who ran the records had any idea what they were doing. If they walked in and got some help from the county, probably not. In the next few years going forward it will only become worse and then an art will be completely forgotten.

Bonus points today for naming the tune without the google.