Tripping Over Money
Ray brought a really big land deal to me in 1974, bigger than I could handle even with the owner financing that was available. I talked to Billy about it, to see if he might be interested in going in with Ray and I. At first, he hemmed and hawed about not having the kind of money to be biting off anything as big as that, but then Ray kept after him, explaining what he had in mind with the deal, and promising to work night and day on putting his overall plan together for splitting off some of the acreage and selling it so that we could reduce our actual exposure. By now, I had developed a real high regard for the feel that Ray had for the land business, at least if it was anywhere around our neck of the woods. I liked the big parcel that he wanted to purchase, and I thought he had a very good chance of pulling off what he was planning on doing. The deal was complicated, at least as far as Billy was concerned, by the fact that Ray wasn't going to put up any capital of his own for the project. Ray had purchased a large home right on the Connecticut River. The house was made of brick and was huge, sitting on eighteen acres. The amenities included a dock, a big boathouse and a two bedroom mother in law cottage or caretaker's house along side of the main building. He had sunk everything he owned into securing the property, and was still left with a hefty mortgage that needed servicing every month. Ray was absolutely convinced that this deal he had found was so good that we should take the risks necessary to get our hands on the property before the price exploded upward.
After spending a week trying to convince Billy that the deal was just too good to pass up, Ray finally gave up and went to see Mr. Bennett to see if he might know of an investor, or a group of investor's that might be interested. Mr. Bennett told Ray that he'd ask around and would get back to him if he had anyone who wanted to discuss Ray's project. As soon as Billy told Theresa about the deal that Ray had been proposing she called over to our house and asked to talk with me.
"Jackie, what's this project that you and Ray were talking to Billy about?" I immediately assumed that Theresa was worried that Billy was being hustled into doing something he didn't want to do, so I assured her that Billy had already turned the deal down and that Ray had gone outside the family to look for another investor. "I know that Billy said no Jackie, but Billy doesn't make the decisions on the trust money, I do. Billy told me that you and Ray both think it's a great opportunity. I know that you two have been doing pretty well on the land deals that Ray has been bringing over to you. Do you think Ray would mind coming out to the farm to talk to me about it?"
"Teri, I don't think that would be a good idea. Billy wouldn't like it if he thought you were trying to wear the pants in the family. You guys have done pretty well for yourselves with Billy calling the shots so far. I think you should just leave well enough alone, and stick with what's worked well for you in the past."
"I already talked to Billy, Jackie, and he said I can look at it if I want to. Billy doesn't like having to put up half the money and then only get a third of the profits. I wanted Ray to explain that to me too."
"Teri, Ray found the deal, and he's the one who'll wind up doing all the work. When he and I do a deal, I put up all the money, and he does all the work, and then he gets half of the profits, not a third. He only agreed to take a third this time to try and make it easy for Billy to come in on it with us. I think it might be better for you guys to just sit this one out. Ray has already gone to see Mr. Bennett and asked him to round up some investors for the deal." We jawed back and forth for another couple of minutes, and then I handed the phone over to Ellen when Theresa said she needed to ask her something. I went into my living room and got back to reading my newspaper. I thought that the matter was over, and that Theresa had decided to listen to my advice. That thought only lasted for as long as it took Ellen to get off of the phone and come out to see me in the living room.
"Jackie, why did you just choose to ignore what Theresa was telling you? Don't you think she has a right to hear about what you and Ray were talking to Billy about? Is it only you men who get to make the business decisions?" In all the time Ellen and I had been together, she'd never once shown the least little bit of interest in anything having to do with making money or investing. In fact, when I tried to talk to her about things like that, she usually just walked away from me saying she had something else that she needed to do. She liked to participate in the spending of the money, not the earning of it.
"Ellen, what makes you think that Theresa might be better qualified to make an investment decision than Billy? Billy has a lot of experience with buying and selling land, and with making decisions about business having directly to do with land. As far as I know, Theresa has never interfered with Billy in any of that before. So, what makes this investment different? Why is she suddenly qualified to second guess Billy's decisions or opinions?"
"Can I call over to Ray and Sandy's and ask him a few questions myself, or are you going to tell me that I don't have the right to find out more about what you and he are planning?"
"Ellen, please, be my guest. There isn't anything Ray or I are planning that you shouldn't know as much about as you want to." She smiled at me then, the total victory smile that I'd grown used to looking at after she had backed me into an uncomfortable corner. I went back to the paper and heard her talking to someone on the kitchen phone. An hour passed by, and she was still talking on the phone. I was about ready to head off to bed when she got off of the telephone and came into the living room and, unceremoniously plunked herself down on my lap.
"Jackie, please try to be home for dinner tomorrow night by six thirty, because we're having several people over for dinner, and then a discussion about that real estate project you and Ray have been working on." I told her that getting home wouldn't be a problem, and asked her who exactly would be joining us. "Your mother and father, my mother and father, Billy and Theresa and Ray and Sandy."
I nodded to her, wondering whether she thought my parents were supposed to have any money to invest in the deal. I didn't ask her any questions though and she seemed satisfied that I didn't. When I went over to pick up my wood the next morning, Billy didn't say much. He just grunted when I asked him if he was okay with Theresa getting all involved in his business dealings. Theresa came out before I was ready to leave and told me that Ellen wanted me to stop off at the bakery on my way home and pick up some french bread and something nice for dessert. Billy gave me a horse laugh and told me that it was nice to see that I was helping my wife with the grocery shopping. He wanted to know if I could recommend a good laundry detergent to him, one that wouldn't make his hands rough and chapped. I ignored him and told Theresa that I was really pleased to hear that her pistol practice was starting to pay off for her. Billy flipped me the bird, and I pantomimed throwing him a big kiss. I drove home with three loaves of french bread and two big pies, one an apple pie, and the other a blueberry. Ellen told me to get cleaned up and changed for our dinner guests. I made a big face at her, then did what she'd told me to do. Ellen had baked up some deep dish lasagna using four different kinds of cheese. We had a nice lettuce salad with the homemade dressing that Ellen's mother had made and brought over. Theresa had brought over some of Big Tony's celler corked Dago red wine. My father had a case of Rheingold beer and half a fifth of Four Roses Whiskey. Ray brought Sandy, and she brought over some of her fudge brownies. All the talk at the supper table was of family and how fast all of the children were growing. After dinner, while the ladies were in doing the dishes and clearing off the tables and putting the leftovers away, the five men went out on my front porch and smoked and had a beverage or two.
Ellen finally came out to get us and let us know that they were all ready for Ray to come tell everyone about his latest real estate project. Ellen and the women had brought the chairs out from the kitchen and the ten of us sat in the living room. Everyone looked at Ray as he stood up and started to talk.
"This is a pretty simple deal really. Mr. Comstock died a couple years ago, and he left everything to his wife. She is getting on in years, and the kids have been pressuring her to convert some of the holdings over to cash. I don't know what all else she owns, but the property that she put up for sale is a little over three hundred net acres of what was once a half section of land with over a thousand feet of frontage on each side of the Old Post Road. The land is all fairly densely wooded, but the important thing is that it backs right up to the new housing development that Manny Trujillo is putting up at Farley's Brook. He got a density waiver and is putting up four houses to the acre out there. Usually, they were only letting builders go two to the acre, and that's how land is currently priced out that way. There is no reason at all, after allowing one builder to get heavier density, that they wouldn't approve the same thing for the next guy who wants to build out that way. The land for sale is for four hundred thousand, and they want a hundred thousand down. They'll carry a note for the rest at six per cent, interest only for five years, and then all due and payable. There is a provision that we could split up the land and sell off chunks of it as long as we pay down the mortgage as we do so. Now, what I want to do is to split the property into three parts. The first part is eighty acres and it is right behind the new subdivision. I know I can either sell that to Manny or another builder for at least three thousand per acre. With Manny building out there already, there is electric, water, phones, sewers and a paved road right up to our property line. The second part of the property would be about one hundred and sixty acres, and that would be right behind the eighty acres that we would sell either to Manny or to some other builder. That property is the one I want us to hold on to. The third piece would be sixty two acres and it is the piece with all the frontage on the Old Post Road. I'm pretty sure that I can get at least two hundred and fifty thousand for that piece from one of several land speculators I know. Billy says that the wood on the whole property is worth at least thirty thousand to him, and we'd use that to make the interest payments, so that we wouldn't have any debt service while we're waiting to pay off the note. The interest payment would be fifteen hundred dollars a month. Taxes would be another four hundred a month. I'd expect that we would be able to get eight hundred thousand for the second parcel if we can hold on to it for two or three years. That would be our profit on the deal. Jackie and I have already paid Mrs. Comstock five thousand in option money, and we have another forty five days before our option runs out. Anybody have any questions?"
"I have a question Ray, how come you don't put up any of the money but you still get as much of the profits as the people who do put the money up?"
"That's a very good question Theresa. The answer is because I'm the one who has to do all the work. I'm the one who invested all the time into looking around to find something like this. I'm the one you're going to be screaming at if this thing doesn't work out as good as I think it will. Does that answer your question?"
"No Ray, it doesn't. Why can't you do all of that for twenty per cent or twenty five per cent?" Billy and my father were nodding their heads in agreement with Theresa. I just sat there, having talked with Ray earlier in the afternoon, waiting for him to tell all of them what he'd earlier told me.
"I don't really think I can explain it to your satisfaction Theresa, but I'll try one more time anyway. Normally, when I do a deal like this, I have a single investor. Up to now, that has always just been Jackie. This is a much bigger deal than what we've ever done before, and Jackie can't handle all of it. If he could do it all, he'd put up all the money, and I'd get fifty per cent of the profits. That's how we've always done it, figuring the money guy should get half the profit and the guy who handles the whole deal gets the other half. I told Jackie that if he wanted to bring Billy in on the deal, I'd take less of a percentage to make it easier for Billy to invest. After Billy passed on the deal, I went to Mr. Bennett and asked him to find us another investor from outside the family. I told him that Jackie and I would each take forty per cent and the outside guy would get twenty per cent, because he wasn't family. A couple of days ago Mr. Bennett called me back and gave me a name of someone to go see, saying that he was expecting to hear from me. I went out to see him this morning, and it looks like we've made ourselves a deal. He puts up half the money and he gets twenty five per cent of the profits. I gave him the extra five per cent because in a way he is family too. At the very least, his daughter is family. Our new partner is going to be B.D. Poynton, Joanie's ex husband." Ray smiled over at me, and sat back down.
"Well if you didn't need any more money, why'd you drag all of us over here tonight for?" My father was being his usual gracious self.
"I think it was because Jackie and Ellen missed you and ma and wanted to have you come visit for a nice supper and some family conversation. Why, did you think they expected you to invest with us?"
"As a matter of fact, I did, smartass. I've gotten the paperwork all ready to borrow $10,000.00 on my life insurance policy. I was willing to throw that into the pot if the two of you really needed it. I know it's not enough to do the whole thing, but it's all we could raise for you right now." Ray looked like he wanted to break out crying, seeing what my father and mother had been willing to sacrifice on our behalf. They weren't investing in any land, they were investing in their sons.
"What about Billy and me? You were just gonna leave us out in the cold? We came over here tonight to take another look at this thing of yours, trying to see if we could find a way to participate under fairer terms, family terms. You just give up on us because we still hadn't ironed out all of the details yet?" After Theresa was finished talking, Ellen's mother looked like she wanted to say something, but Tom, her husband, grabbed her knee and passed her a look to be quiet.
"I didn't fully commit to B.D., so there isn't anything that's final right now. I told him that I had to check things out with Jackie and some of the family before I could give him a definite okay to the deal. As far as Jackie and I are concerned, we're still ready to live up to our original offer to Billy. Billy, do you want in, putting up half the money for one third of the profits?" Billy looked over at Theresa, waiting for her to make the decision. Theresa looked uncertain about making a commitment now that it was back in the offing. "Billy, even if you decide not to invest in this thing, Jackie and I will still give you the logging contract. You know that, right?"
"Okay, Ray, I guess Theresa and I are coming in. It isn't like we don't trust you guys, or that we wanted to make you take less than a fair share either. It's a lot of money though, and it's not easy to even think about parting with so much money and taking on such a big mortgage too." Billy shook hands with Ray and I, and the deal was done.
"Well, what about your mother and I then? All we get is some lasagna and a slice of pie? I didn't come over here to be overlooked on the investing or on the profits you'll be making. What do you three have for us in this deal?"
"I'll tell you what pop, I've got something here for you too. You know that ten thousand you're so anxious to be borrowing on your insurance? You go ahead and borrow it, and then you just loan it to me. I'll need some money to keep up my house payments anyway. I'll pay you one third of my one third, but I'll also guarantee you that, if this doesn't work out, I'll pay you back your ten grand plus all the interest you have to pay. If it does work out though, I won't have to pay the money back. How's that?" That got both of my parents smiling. They could understand a no risk opportunity when it was offered to them, and Ray knew that I wouldn't let them get stuck holding the bag if the thing somehow blew up in our faces. I looked over at Ellen, and she was looking at me and casting her eyes left and right over at her parents. Well, fuck me!
"Tom, if you and Flo want to come in on this, you can buy into my piece of the investment. I'm putting up $50,000.00 for a third of the profits. Do you want to invest and take over a percentage of my ownership?" I was hoping they would refuse. Not because I was greedy, but because I didn't want to be in any partnership with my mother in law. Of course, she chirped right up for the two of them.
"Thank you Jackie, we'd like to buy in for ten thousand too. So would that mean we would have a third of your third like your brother gave to your parents?"
"Actually, no. If you are paying twenty per cent of my costs, you take over twenty per cent of my ownership. Additionally, you'd be responsible for twenty per cent of any losses I incur. I doubt that there will be any losses, but it's always a possibility. There are never any guarantees in investing you know." Tom agreed right away and we shook on it. I couldn't help but think about how much more preferable it would have been if I could have swung the whole deal by myself. This deal was now shaping up to be a logistical nightmare for me since I was the one who always got stuck doing the accounting on these deals, and taking care of all the costs and disbursements. At least Ellen was happy, and that had to be worth something, didn't it? We broke up the meeting and everyone headed back to their respective homes.
"I hope you learned a valuable lesson tonight Jackie. It went so much better once the women all got involved and we were able to smooth over all the differences. I hope you appreciate what I helped put together for you." At two o'clock that afternoon when I had spoken with Ray, I was going to have thirty seven and a half percent of what I believed was an eight hundred thousand dollar profit. Going to bed that evening, I had approximately $100,000.00 less profit potential and had saved myself $10,000.00 on the one hand and obligated myself to another ten thousand, since I was the de facto guarantor that my brother would pay back my parent's life insurance policy loan. Plus, I had to be partners with six more people instead of just one more. I figured that if I could just get Ellen to assist me in my businesses, I could be bankrupt within a couple of years.
"Yes sweetheart, I did learn a lesson, thank you. I'll try really hard not to forget it too."