Be the Best Negotiator You Can Be

In many places around the country, the real estate market today is considered “soft,” with more houses offered for sale than there are willing and able buyers to purchase them. Though this may cause some angst for the seller, it places the buyer in a good position to negotiate a good deal.

However, having such an advantage is not a guarantee of success. If you are in the market for a home, remember these tips when you begin to negotiate for the home:

Be informed

Find out everything you can about the property. Compare the asking price with what other homes in the neighborhood are selling for or have sold for recently. Your realtor can get this information with a Comparable Market Analysis (CMA).

Find out why the sellers are selling and how long the property has been on the market. If the sellers have already purchased or made an offer on another home, they might be open to negotiations. Likewise, a divorce, death in the family, or other personal situations could raise the urgency of the sellers to accept a lower offer.

Amanda and Steven Allen, first-time homebuyers in their late 20s, had been home shopping for several weeks when they found the home they wanted.

“We figured an initial offer based on the comparables,” says Amanda. “We took the average price per square foot for other sales in the neighborhood and multiplied our square footage. That was the starting price, before we got inspections and considered anything else we wanted from the seller. It was a place to start.”

The Allens also found out that the property was the former home of the sellers’ mother, who had been moved to a nursing home.

“There was some sentimental value for them, and we took that into consideration,” Amanda says. “It seemed to help that they knew we would care for the property.”

Be prepared

“I recommend that potential buyers become pre-qualified for a loan,” says June Walbert, Senior Financial Planner/Advisor for USAA. “There’s no sense in estimating if that’s not reality.”

She also recommends making sure your credit is as stellar as it can be when you start the mortgage hunt.

“You don’t want to get your hopes up for a home if your credit is not up to par or if your income doesn’t warrant a home in a certain price range,” she says.

The Allens knew the importance of covering that base. “We got pre-qualified so we knew what our limits were,” says Amanda.

Walbert goes a step further and recommends buying a home you can afford on one income even if you’re a dual-income family.

“A lot can happen: job loss, death, divorce, or deciding to stay home after having children,” she says. “It’s best to have something you can live with in case life throws a curve.”

Another suggestion is getting an inspection – and in some cases more than one inspection with trade professionals you trust.

“Hire an independent inspector (one not affiliated with the lender or the seller) who can be your eyes and look out for your best interests,” Walbert says. “Try to be there when the inspector is at the home and ask a lot of questions.”

When the inspection uncovered several issues with the HVAC, crawl-space insulation and plumbing, the Allens negotiated to have those problems fixed – which resulted in about $30,000 worth of work, including a new HVAC unit, before they closed on the home.

Be reasonable

Even with paperwork in order and information in hand, the actual negotiation moment can still be intimidating. However, Walbert notes how important it is to lower the anxiety level and emotions as much as possible.

“This is a business transaction, and it helps to view it that ways,” she says. “Leave the emotion out of it as much as you can. Think of it objectively. If you can’t see yourself living there for five to ten years, maybe it’s not the best thing to do at this time.”

A willingness to meet the sellers halfway can help too. For instance, it is acceptable to offer the lower range from the Comparable Market Analysis, but low-balling with an insulting figure can ruin the deal.

Be wise

“No one does your bidding like you do,” says Walbert. “The realtor puts in the official bid, but you are the one who knows what the home is worth to you. Stick with that price. Your realtor is your advisor, but you know what you’re comfortable with.”

Walbert also cautions to get everything in writing.

“Get a good faith estimate, get closing costs considerations on paper, get every offer spelled out,” she says. “That’s your due diligence.”

Published on USAA’s member site (not bylined)

Insurance Fraud Is No Accident

It was the driver’s erratic behavior that caught the attention of USAA member Connie Summers. As she drove in the left lane of a four-lane highway, she noticed that the driver in the right lane kept staring at her, pacing his car to her speed.

Suddenly the other driver swooped into the left lane ahead of her and slammed on brakes, causing her to hit his car.

At that point, Summers did the right thing: She called her husband, the police and USAA. While she waited, she took photos with her cell phone camera and gave no personal information until authorities arrived. In the end, questioning by the police determined that the other driver was at fault for reckless driving.

The scams

What Summers experienced is a variation of what is known as the Swoop and Squat. In this scam, the people in the car that was rear-ended file bogus injury claims, often claiming soft-tissue injuries (such as whiplash), which are difficult to confirm medically. Sometimes the scam involves more than one vehicle, with one of them swooping in, slamming on brakes to be hit by you and then hitting the car in front – creating two separate claims.

Other scams include:

  • The drive down (also known as the wave). This happens when you try to merge and the driver waves you ahead. But instead of letting you in, he slams into your car. When the police arrive, he denies motioning to you.
  • The t-bone. When crossing an intersection, a car speeds up from a side street and hits you. When the police arrive, the driver and a few planted “witnesses” swear that you ran a red light or stop sign.
  • The sideswipe. When you round a corner at an intersection that has multiple lanes, you drift slightly into the next lane. The car in that lane accelerates and hits you.

Avoiding the scams

Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau – a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting insurance fraud and crime – says the most important thing is to be aware of your surroundings and keep your wits.

“Often these scam artists are looking for single drivers, usually older drivers and more often than not a woman driving alone,” he says. “They look for nice cars, because that tells them that the driver probably has money and has good insurance.”

Another thing to be wary of is if the incident involves only you and another vehicle and suddenly there are several people showing up as witnesses.

“That’s a pretty good indicator that it’s a staged accident, and the other people are working with the scam artist,” says Scafidi.

Loretta Worters, vice president with Insurance Information Institute, calls staged accidents “a dangerous criminal activity that targets innocent drivers with increasingly bold schemes aimed at defrauding insurance companies.”

How big is the problem?

While some of the clauses and options in insurance options – Personal Injury Protection, Uninsured Motorists, Underinsured Motorists, to name a few – can help ward off the personal cost to you, the underlying cost of insurance fraud is much larger.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, staged accidents cost the insurance industry about $20 billion a year – which gets passed onto the consumer in the form of higher premiums at an average of $100-$300 per car per year.

Even without cases of caused or staged accidents, fraud alone is costly. The Insurance Research Council estimates that 24% of auto injury claims may contain fraud, which can add about $4.5 billion annual to auto injury settlements.

Scafidi says the problem of insurance fraud due to scams is growing.

“We look at questionable claims that member companies refer to us and that gives us somewhat of an indicator of how big the problem is,” Scafidi says.

What you can do

Aside from using standard defensive driving techniques, such as allowing room between you and the driver ahead, there are some actions you can take to avoid being a victim.

“There isn’t an insurance policy that can protect you completely from fraud,” says Shay Gause, Director of Claims Security for USAA. “What you can do is stay alert and aware. And by all means, call your insurance company immediately.”

Scarfidi recommends gathering as much information on the scene as you can, including the height, weight and ethnicity of the other driver and passengers.

“Take photos of the vehicles, any damage, the license plate, everything,” he says. “Carry a disposable camera in your car if your cell phone doesn’t have one.”

Try to obtain:

  • The driver’s name, driver’s license number, address and phone number.
  • Vehicle registration number.
  • Vehicle identification number (usually on the dash on the driver’s side of the car).
  • Insurance information.

In addition, always be sure to:

  • Call the police, even if the damage is minimal and especially if something doesn’t seem right.
  • Never settle on site with cash. Report everything to your insurance company, and be sure to inform them if you have suspicions.
  • Never disclose too much personal information to avoid identify theft.
Published on USAA’s member site (not bylined)

It’s a Small World After All

Jack Hanna Revisits Charleston

By Shelia Watson

“Charleston is the perfect venue for an event about wildlife,” says Jack Hanna, the nationally known animal expert. “Part of the purpose in an event like this is to promote conservation and care for the natural setting, whether it’s animals or landscapes or birds. And you have an audience concerned about what you’re talking about. Of course, Charleston lends itself to that type of thing.”

This year marks Hanna’s second visit as a SEWE presenter, and his enthusiasm for the event hasn’t waned.

“I had a great time the first year I attended,” Hanna says. “I consider this the finest wildlife expo in the country. The artists are among the best in the country, and the overall organization is unbelievable. Everything is efficient and very well planned. I go to a lot of these expos, and you can believe me when I say Charleston does a tremendous job.”

Hanna’s endorsement is high praise. After all, this is a man whose background qualifies him to know what constitutes “finest” when it comes to wildlife events.

His first job was working for the family vet cleaning cages. That was the place, he says, where he learned to develop a lot of respect for animals.

He met his wife Suzi at Muskingum College, and soon after getting married, they opened a pet shop. Hanna had always wanted to work in a zoo, and in 1973 he received an offer to direct a small zoo in Sanford, Fla., where he stayed until a family illness forced him to leave the job in 1975.

By 1978, he missed working with animals enough to answer an ad for director of the Columbus Zoo. During his stint as executive director from 1978 to 1992, Hanna says, “I worked with many people to improve the zoo and bring it to the state-of-the-art park it is today.”

In 1983, he agreed to go on “Good Morning America,” eager for the opportunity to raise awareness of animals. He has been a regular guest and correspondent since.

He first appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman” in 1985 and now is a regular guest several times a year.

His other television appearances include “Larry King Live,” “Hollywood Squares,” “The Maury Povich Show,” “Entertainment Tonight” and “Hannity & Colmes.” He also serves as correspondent to various news programs.

“The animals I bring on television are cared for by professionals and are ambassadors to their cousins in the wild,” Hanna says.

By 1992, because his media appearances started taking up a lot of time and he could no longer manage day-to-day activities at the zoo, he became director emeritus, a position he holds today.

In 1993, he became host of “Jack Hanna’s Animals Adventures,” a nationally syndicated television series.

Although he travels a great deal—his attendance at SEWE comes after a whirlwind 10-city tour—Hanna still calls central Ohio home.

“I’ve traveled all over the place,” he says. “I’ve done speeches at theaters, I’ve presented at Sea World and I’ve visited a host of places talking about animals. I’ve seen so many different types of venues, and the thing that sets this wildlife expo apart from the others is the obvious concern about the environment in so many different forms. You can see it in the presentations and in the art. You’re exposed to it from every facet.”

In many respects, Hanna considers himself an educator. “I think the most important thing people should learn about animals is that we live in a world that’s very small. What we do affects everyone else. And we can’t forget that it affects the animals as well.”

Published in the Post and Courier’s Southeastern Wildlife Expo supplement

As for me, make mine tea

By Shelia Watson

The American philosopher Williams James once noted that “there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”

Nowhere is this more evident than in Charleston, where, following its pre-Revolutionary English roots, afternoon tea is still considered a refined and dignified ceremony.

The visitor who has the fortune to experience the Charleston tea room will find a tradition well kept and tastefully maintained over the years.

Charleston has the distinction of being the first place tea was grown in the United States. In 1799, French botanist Francois Andre Micheaux brought the first tea plants and seeds to America, specifically to what is now Middleton Place Gardens, near Charleston.

Early attempts to grow tea in the United States include a successful venture in 1888 when Dr. Charles Shepard established the Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville. Pinehurst gained fame for its oolong tea, which claimed first prize at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Shepard’s plantation was an innovative experimental farm that flourished until his death in 1915.

In 1903, one of Shephard’s students, Maj. Roswell Trimble, along with his partner, Augustus C. Tyler, started the American Tea Growing Company. They transplanted thousands of plants from Pinehurst to a farm near Rantowles, just outside Charleston. But by 1907, the two were feuding so much the company dissolved.

Pinehurst was overgrown when Thomas J. Lipton Inc. arrived in 1963. Lipton created a research station on Wadmalaw Island, where he experimented with Shepard’s remaining plants, ultimately proving that a high quality tea could be grown successfully in the United States, particularly in the Southeast.

In 1987, Mack Fleming and William Barclay Hall started the Charleston Tea Plantation after purchasing 127 acres from Lipton and turned the farm into the only place in America where tea is grown commercially. The plantation produces American Classic Tea.

Fleming says Charleston’s high humidity is perfect for growing tea plants, noting that “the humidity in Charleston is 95 percent during the summer months.”

Tea plants last from 600 to 800 years. Some of the plants at the Charleston Tea Plantation are descendants of bushes brought to the United States more than 100 years ago.

Fleming says the plantation has 320 different varieties of tea plants, 315 of which came from the Summerville plantation.

Tea is part of almost every culture in the world, dating back to the ancient Chinese. It was originally used for medicinal purposes, as tea has the unusual ability to calm and stimulate at the same time. It later became popular for social purposes.

The tradition of afternoon tea, or “taking tea,” as it is properly referred to, has been attributed more to the English and was discovered as a way to make it through the long period between their mid day and evening meal.

Many of the churches in the historic district hold tea rooms during certain times of the year, such as during the Spoleto Festival or during the Christmas holidays. A few of the finer hotels and bed & breakfast establishments also have tea rooms, which feature classic tea sandwiches, tarts, crumpets, scones and other culinary delights.

Published in Discover Charleston

Destination Charleston

By Shelia Watson

The city has long been a favorite vacation spot, but these days Charleston is not only a place to escape for a week, but also a location for events, conventions and conferences.

From historic homes and elegant hotels to grand plantations and charming parks, the plentiful options in Charleston make the city one of the most popular sites for special events.

Say “I do” to Charleston

Charleston may need to change its nickname from the Holy City to the Wedding City. Consistently ranked a top destination for romantic getaways, Charleston offers a mixture of old-world charm and sophisticated flavor, offering the best of past and present. Well-known for her gracious southern hospitality, Charleston boasts a wide variety of venues and a host of professional services that can help make that special day flawless.

While some couples may have ties to Charleston, others simply want Charleston as the backdrop for their special day. From the beach to the Battery, Charleston is a great place to bring friends and family for a wedding because there is so much to do, including activities before, during and after then ceremony.

When you picture the perfect wedding day—whether it’s before a breathtaking sunset on a plantation or under live oaks draped with Spanish moss or among the sand and surf of the Atlantic Ocean—Charleston has an assortment of ideal venues to fit your dream wedding.

Sightseeing, golf and shopping can be fun for guests, with horse-drawn carriages a distinctive way to transport guests from one venue to another.

Besides being one of the top-ranked wedding destinations, Charleston is also one of the most popular honeymoon destinations. Whether you choose to celebrate your honeymoon with seclusion or action, the area offers a range of accommodations and activities to meet your needs. As a honeymoon destination, you can enjoy shopping, sports, art, sightseeing, golf, dining, nature, historic sites, gardens, scenic roads and beaches.

Corporate and other events

Many event planners say people are more likely to attend an event held in Charleston than any other destination. The options for corporate retreats and other events are plentiful. From Summerville to Mount Pleasant to the Sea Islands, you’ll find excellent restaurants, historic plantations and ambiance galore.

Best of all, the event is not limited to a hotel ballroom. The beach can make a soothing backdrop for a strategic planning retreat. The waterfront offers nautical- and maritime-themed venues. A plantation can include a Southern style menu. Or try one of our many parks, complete with team-building activities and high-tech amenities.

A pampered experience

Besides the available venues for event planning, more and more vacationers are turning to spas to help ease stress and relieve tension. There are several options in Charleston for the ultimate in resting, relaxing and pampering.

Few things in life are as luxurious as the soothing attention of a spa vacation, and Charleston has many to offer. The respite from hectic busy lives can be found in several spas in the area, some of them in a relaxing beach setting, some in the grand historic downtown area.

Published in Discover Charleston

Innovative pest-detection system is man’s – and company’s – best friend

By Shelia Watson

At first glance, the concept behind Furniture Rentals Inc. may seem obvious. But whereas renting furniture is not a new idea, the company’s abilities to stay ahead of trends and develop new avenues for serving its clientele are innovative.

As the sister company of Select Corporate Housing, which offers temporary flexible housing for corporate clients and military personnel that are relocating as well as construction companies on long-term projects, Furniture Rentals provides the extras that make a difference.

“We’re not the standard furniture rental company,” says Anthony Thuan, Furniture Rental’s director of operations. “We’re an upscale company that supplies furnishings, appliances, linens, silverwear, you name it. We also add in the cable, power, water, the whole nine yards, so they can get everything on one bill.”

In business since 1971, the company operates in South Carolina and throughout the Southeast. The corporate relocation division has been operating since 1997.

One of the company’s more recent innovations is designed more for safety and health: a bed bug detection system in the form of Tracker, a beagle trained for the job.

Thuan, one of two handlers who oversee Tracker’s care, says the dog was trained by a kennel company that also trains dogs to sniff out bombs, drugs, cadavers, mold and termites, among other things. Tracker was trained specifically to detect bed bugs and their eggs – a skill that is becoming more critical, especially with news of bed bug infestations throughout the country.

On the job for nearly three years, Tracker is a member of the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association and every year goes through rigorous continuing education, along with his two handlers, to maintain his certification.

“We use Tracker for preventive maintenance, but he’s also in service for select clients and in some cases for the general public, such as hotels and pest control companies,” says Thuan. “It’s a way to be one step ahead of the game.”

What makes Tracker more effective than other methods, such as insecticides, is his ability to detect eggs or hone in on one remaining bug – something current products are not able to do.

Thuan says the work Tracker does is actually a game to the dog, and the handlers find ways to play to keep him interested.

“Sometimes he doesn’t find any bugs, which is good, but he needs the motivation,” he says. “So we put out ‘hides’ that he can find so he can get his reward.”

Published in Charleston Regional Business Journal

New technology process makes spirits faster, better

By Shelia Watson

Imagine a job that requires just that: imagining. Imagining improved methods, better results, more innovation, faster production.

And if you did, you just put yourself into the world of O.Z. “Ty” Tyler, inventor, chemist and owner of several patents, who daily ponders the “what-if” questions that often lead to something big.

“I love to figure out how something’s made so it can be made better,” said Tyler.

About 10 years ago, Tyler, whose expertise includes new product development with corporations such as DuPont, Hercules and WR Grace, worked with colleague Edward Bailey on an idea to rapidly age whisky.

He said the process was similar to how he came up the idea to put soda in cans.

“They had been putting beer in cans for years, and I asked why beer but not soda,” he said. “I finally figured out it was the coating on the can that made the drink taste like metal.”

So he changed how the cans were made, and canned soda became a billion-dollar market.

“With spirits, I started asking why you have to distill something for a long time and put it in a cellar for even longer,” he said. “It’s that whole thing of taking something apart to see how they did it and making it better.”

By 2006-07, they had perfected the process and built a machine that could replicate the effects of aging whisky in a barrel – but in a fraction of the time and with high-quality results.

By 2008-2009, Edward Hewlette was brought in as president and CEO, the company Terressentia was formed, and the machine and the intellectual property were made ready for commercial application.

Hewlette, whose career includes a law practice and executive management in the hospitality industry, said he was brought out of retirement to help bring Terressentia’s process to market.

“Basically I’m a failure at being retired,” he said. “But the simple answer to why I became interested is this: There are certain fundamentals in organizing and running a business that don’t change from industry to industry. I like the challenge of bringing something to market and making it a commercial success.”

What he hopes to make a success is a process that Hewlette said, “can make high quality spirits of all types and all flavors for companies that want to own their own labels, and for those who want their own brand, we do that too.”

In practical terms, it’s about saving money and time.

Take the case of bourbon. The typical process of aging the liquor takes seven to 12 years. Terressentia’s process can take very young bourbon and output high-quality spirits in a matter of days.

To get high-quality vodka, the spirits have to be distilled five times. Terressentia can do the same in six hours.

“Distilled spirits was discovered a thousand years ago,” said Hewlette. “They figured out how to condense it and make it into something to drink, but ever since they’ve been looking for a way to make it taste better.”

Until now, the only way was to let it age.

Although the company is licensed as a distillery, it does not distill – which would require an investment in distillery equipment – but rather it concentrates its efforts on processing for private labels and companies that have their own brands.

“A lot of hotels have their own wine label, but very few have their own whisky or vodka,” said Hewlette. “We can help them with that.”

Terressentia recently received a $200,000 investment from the South Carolina Research Authority’s SC Launch! program, invests in knowledge-based technologies throughout the state. The money will be used for marketing and sales efforts. The company is currently exporting to the Caribbean and Europe and has plans to export to Canada and China.

“Our sales forces are contacting hotel chains, food lines and various other businesses,” said Hewlette. “We’re letting them know what we have is better and less expensive to work with.”

Which is something potential clients might do well to note, especially considering the rest of the canned-soda story, as Tyler tells it:

“We went down to Atlanta to talk to Coca-Cola about the process,” he said. “They turned us down and said their customers would never abandon the bottle.”

He took it to the Royal Crown Company, which used it for its Diet Rite sodas. The result was an overnight success.

Tyler laughed, then started in with another idea.

“You know, I was talking with someone just yesterday about preventing infections and wondering why we couldn’t change computer keyboards from hard plastic to copper coating,” he said. “Wonder if that would work …”

INFOBOXES

Terressentia
Formed: 2007
Employees: 12
Key product/service: TerrePURE, a patented technology process of rapid maturation and refining of high quality spirits for retails and private brand owners.

Official title of the patent for the process: “Process for Enhanced Flavoring of Beverages and Product Produced Therefrom.”

 

Earl Hewlette
Position at Terressentia: founder, president and chief executive officer
Age: 64
Education: MBA and law degree from University of South Carolina
Resume bullets:

  • Two decades of practicing law
  • President of Sea Pines Company and Hilton Head Company
  • CEO of Gaelic Properties, Destination Hotels & Resorts (Eastern region)
  • CEO of Ginn Clubs and Resorts

Preferred drink: “Typically I like whisky or vodka. But these days there’s a problem. You see, our process smooths out the spirit so much and the taste is of such high quality, but we can’t order our own spirits on the market yet. It’s just not the same. So until then, I drink a high-quality cabernet or bordeaux wine when I’m out.”

O.Z. “Ty” Tyler
Position at Terressentia: co-founder and chief technology officer
Age: 76
Education: MBA from Tulane University, BA in chemistry from Bowdoin College

Resume bullets: President or vice-president positions at various companies, as well as consulting and market development positions throughout 40 years of innovative product development, with more than 100 products currently on the market, including:

  • The process to put soda in cans
  • Washable wallpaper
  • Outdoor latex paints for wood surfaces
  • Indoor/outdoor carpets

Preferred drink: “I’ve always been a scotch drinker and I love the fact that you can manipulate our process to give any range of flavors and can emphasize one thing or another.”

Published in Charleston Regional Business Journal