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Let Mysteries Take You Around the World . . .

It’s Sunday night, the hockey game is over (you know, the one between Canada and the US) and it’s time to curl up with a good mystery and let it take me around the world.

Recently I’ve deliberately set out to read mysteries set in countries that I don’t know much about or have never visited. 

For instance, I’ve just finished Hidden Moon by James Church.  Set in North Korea, Church, a former intelligence officer, has a real affection for the landscape and the people of this hidden land where nothing is as it seems.

I’m also reading Murder in the Palais Royal by Cara Black. 

Set in Paris, Black perfectly captures the nuanced workings of the French buracracy while providing a lively look at daily life – from the can’t do without morning “express” to the second hand shops that specialize in vintage couture.

Then we have A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn.   

Nunn, a nominee for this year’s Edgar Awards, takes us to South Africa in 1952.  What holds the reader is the fabric of secrets and lies, supported by the Immorality Act, which makes it a crime to have sex across the color line.

With Henning Mankell and The Man From Beijing we go from Sweden to China to the US and back, all the while unraveling a centuries old act of treachery.

And the list goes on and on.  Ready to go around the world with your own favorites?  Check out Stop You’re Killing Me! where you can search for mysteries by country, state, and genre.  It also has good reviews as does the Independent Mystery Booksellers site.

Let us know your favorites, we’d love to hear from you.

Virginia

Thanks to my lovely wife for today’s post.

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The BERGIN BOOK REPORT – Dictionary of Real Estate Terms

In this edition of the BERGIN BOOK REPORT, we are going to take a look at Barron’s Dictionary of Real Estate Terms (7th edition).  Compact and dense with 500+ pages, the Dictionary of Real Estate Terms is a must for new agents, lenders and developers AND those looking to buy or sell a house for the first time.

There are approximately 3,000 terms with concise definitions and examples covering real estate topics from A-Z.

There are also more than 200 line illustrations, graphs, charts, tables and an extensive list of abbreviations.   Many of the terms are things we might take for granted like “Tudor style” or “California ranch” or “duplex”.

But delve a bit further and you are sure to find any number of words/phrases/acronyms that might just trip you up.  For instance, do you know what the following mean?

Ready for the answers?

Bridal Registry Mortgagean innovation, sponsored by the Federal Housing Administration, in which a couple who plan to be married may establish a registry through which friends and relatives may contribute to a fund that can be used as a down payment on a home.  The portion of the down payment coming from the fund is considered a substitute for cash contributed by borrowers, when application is made for a mortgage insured by the FHA.

NLANet leasable area

Imperative Necessitythe ability of an agent to take initiative in times of emergency, including disregarding instructions from the principal, when it is clearly in the interest of that principal.

Greenbeltan area of undeveloped land around a residential area, intended to preserve open space and a natural environment.  Often enforced by covenant, deed restriction, or city zoning.

FPMflexible payment mortgage.

I hope you’ve learned something new from the Dictionary of Real Estate Terms, I know I have.

That’s a wrap for this edition of the BERGIN BOOK REPORT.  And if you want to put some of your new found knowledge to work, give me a call at 703.927.455 and let’s talk houses.

Michael

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Making My List and Checking It Twice – GIFT Books for Holiday Giving

Ok folks, we are down to the final ‘do or die’ days for holiday shopping.  So today I am making my list and checking it twice for GIFT books:

Herblock: The Life and Work of the Great Political Cartoonist by Haines Johnson  – With a career spanning 72 years and 13 American presidents, his cartoons made complex issues seem simple and moral choices clear.  An amazing work.

Boy Scouts of America, A Centennial History by Chuck Wills – The official and definitive history of one of our
nation’s most influential and cherished organizations, packed with
stories and images of service and heroism.


Read My Pins by Madeline Albright – This is a particular favorite of Virginia’s and and takes ‘dress for success’ to another level.   Albright used her famous collection of pins (most costume jewelry) to convey what she could not say publically, especially when dealing with the Middle East.

Polar Obsession by Paul Nicklen – An unprecedented, up-close documentation of the lives of leopard seals, whales,walruses,  polar bears, bearded seals, and narwhals, all bathed in polar light.

The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns – speaks for itself.   A companion to the Ken Burns PBS documentary, the book allows you to linger over the “great sections of our natural landscape . . . set aside, not for kings
or noblemen or the very rich, but for everyone, for all time.”

A Shadow Falls by Nick Brandt – This is one of the most stunning books of photography I have seen in recent years.  Fifty-eight images in stunning, oversize tritone plates (black and white) capture the natural grandeur of East Africa with wide-screen panoramas of animals and landscapes.  Truly magnificent.

Be sure and check out my post on biographies and history books too.

Happy Shopping,

Michael

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The BERGIN BOOK REPORT – Who’s Your City?

Welcome to my new series – The BERGIN BOOK REPORT.  My goal is to highlight books of interest to anyone involved in the wide world of real estate.  It may be the latest “how to” written by a fellow agent; a city guide for transplanted newcomers; or a general discourse on investing in real estate.  In all cases, my hope is that you will be enlightened, entertained and engaged.

The second entry*** in the BERGIN BOOK REPORT archive is Who’s Your City? by best selling author Richard Florida. Florida is a regular columnist for The Globe and Mail in Toronto, Canada and founder of the Creative Class Group located in Washington, DC, Toronto, Pittsburgh, and Europe.

Although Who’s Your City? is classified as Economics/Current Events,  I think it is essential reading for understanding how people are making decisions about where to live and why.

The basic idea is that certain qualities in a town or city actually make people happy and that individuals can use these ideas to make choices about where to live.  It is also a great ‘heads up’ in looking for that next great neighborhood or city.

Who’s Your City?  is chocked full of meaty  information  – all backed by tables, graphs, survey results, and opinion polls.  From the Place and Happiness Survey, the key factors that “underpin our happiness with place”:

The survey also collected a wide range of demographic data and looked at how value in places is affected by income, education, occupation, age, race and ethnicity.  What then were the things that mattered most?  Aesthetics and basic services!

But beautiful beaches, sidewalk cafes, and bicycle trails are not the only indicators of a real estate hotspot.  This next revelation is undoubtedly what gained the most attention for Who’s Your City? – and a guest appearance for Florida on the Colbert Report.

Florida asserts that two major factors combine to shape housing values.  The first is obvious – wealth.  The wealthier the residents, the pricier the housing.

The second, and much larger factor, is what Florida refers to as the “Bohemian-Gay Index” which combines the “concentration of artists, musicians, and designers with the concentration of gays and lesbians in a region.”

“Regardless of which variables we applied, what version of the model we used, or which regions we looked at, the concentration of bohemians and gays consistently had a substantial correlation with housing values.”

Does your experience correspond with Florida’s data?  Are you seeing neighborhoods/cities reinvented because of the “Bohemian-Gay Index“?

Locally, I definitely think the BG Index has played out in my neighborhood – Del Ray –  in Alexandria, VA.  What was once a run down/working class area is now one of the most sought after neighborhoods in Northern Virginia and prides itself on it’s diversity and bohemian chic.

Whether you agree with Florida or not, Who’s Your City? is a must read for understanding what is happening in the market place.

And that’s a wrap for this edition of the BERGIN BOOK REPORT.

Michael

***I jumped the gun a bit last week with :  Exit Now and Next Exit

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The BERGIN BOOK REPORT – Exit Now and Next Exit

First, let me say that I do not have a GPS in my car.  That doesn’t stop me from finding my way around but I do come up short sometimes in finding a gas station or a much needed bite to eat – especially on long driving trips. So, this edition of the BERGIN BOOK REPORT is all about two unique books, Exit Now and Next Exit.

Exit Now is the “Official Exit Directory of the Good Sam Club”.  The Good Sam Club is “the World’s Largest RV Owners Community” and Exit Now very much reflects the special issues faced by RV drivers or drivers pulling a camper or even a moving van – like a large area in which to turn around or even pull over.

Other issues addressed by the book are regular gas stations with diesel fuel, RV friendly locations, pet friendly locations, local festivals and low clearances.

In fact, there is a special section in the back that details low clearances state by state.

Exit Now is spiral bound which makes it easy to use in a car and  it starts with I-4 eastbound from Tampa to Dayton and ends with the I-710 by-pass around Los Angeles.  Laid out like an atlas, the book moves smoothly from state to state and interstate to interstate.

I picked up some good reviews on Amazon  for Exit Now but there were also one or two that pointed out some deficiencies so check for yourself.

the Next EXIT is very similar in strategy and layout but also had some mixed reviews. (Although have you ever read a book that everyone agreed on?).  You click here to see a sample page.

You can of course download similar information on your computer or Blackberry or IPhone but what I like about having this kind of book is that almost anyone can use it and you can see more than one or two exits at a glance.  The down side of course is that they are books which means, for instance,, that some closings of state run  rest stops may not be included.

Still, if you are making a move across country or even from one adjoining state to another, this is a terrific resource to make the drive easier.  And what about vacations, trips to college, visiting children and grandchildren?  I know I’m putting one in our car – what about you?

Michael




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A Day at the 2009 National Book Festival

Today was the 2009 National Book Festival in Washington, DC and although the day promised rain, nothing could dampen our spirits.  Eager to claim our press passes and stake out our seats, we packed up and headed out about 9:00am.

Thirty minutes later when we got off at the Smithsonian Metro stop, the crowds were heavy and already filling the tents.  We staked out our seats in the Mystery and Thriller tent- second row, stage right – and Virginia headed to the media tent for our coveted press credentials.

A disclaimer – The National Book Festival is a huge event, drawing well over 100,000 folks with individual tents devoted to fiction and fantasy, poetry and prose, history and biography, teens and children, we knew we couldn’t see everything so we decided to devote ourselves to Mysteries and Thrillers.

First, let me set the scene.  Each genre has its own circus size tent with a stage, sound system and rows and rows of chairs.  The speakers are formally introduced, talk for 10-15 minutes, then take questions for their remaining time.

Some folks come and go between speakers, others stay put for the whole day – like we did!  We saw 12 authors in all but for expediency we are going to focus on our “favorite four.”

First was Michael Connelly who, while nursing a sore throat, was a game participant.  He talked about witnessing a robbery at the age of 16, how his character Hieronymus Bosch came to be and how writers “live for the moment that the wave (of ideas) comes.”

Next is an author new to us, Craig Johnson.  A real life cowboy from Wyoming, Craig does an award winning series featuring a small town (Western) police force.

The real surprise though is that Johnson could have a second career as a stand-up comic.  We laughed from beginning to end and would have loved an encore.

Our third pick is Lee Child.  We had a chance to talk briefly about the adventures and misadventures of protagonist, ex-Marine Jack Reacher.

Child told us that in addition to large print and audio books he does a special edition for a group of 200 ex-Marine Corp radio operators who have lost their eyesight and its done in Morse Code.

And our fourth and final pick  –  Lisa Scottoline.  A former prosecutor from South Philly, Lisa had us rolling in the aisles while celebrating the good work of librarians who opened the world of books to her.

We also made a quick trip to the media tent for some pictures of Paula Deen.  Much smaller than she appears on TV, she exhibited the same warmth and down home humor that have made her a darling of the airwaves.

By now it had started to rain so we beat a hasty retreat for the Metro home.  Wonderfully sated after a full day of books and authors at the 2009 National Book Festival, I’m ordering Chinese for dinner and tucking in with the new Michael Connelly.

I’ll let you know how I like it –

Michael

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How to Get a Loan Modification

Are you or someone you know having trouble making your mortgage payments?  Do you think that selling your house or even facing foreclosure is the only choice?  It’s not.  Consider a loan modification or “loan mod”.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development a loan modification is “a permanent change in one or more of the terms of a mortgagor’s loan . . . and results in a payment the mortgagor can afford.”  There are companies that you can hire to help make this change or you can do it on your own.  Too hard you say? Too complicated?  Not any more, thanks to an absolutely terrific book that is just hitting the market place.

I would love to take credit for the straightforward, step by step, reassuring book that is How to Get a Loan Modification but I can’t.  That acknowledgment goes to father and son real estate investors/agents Ryan and Mike Rockwood of Southern California.

Using their own experiences, Ryan and Mike have crafted one of the best do it yourself workbooks I have ever seen.  Trust me, the folks who do the “Dummies” guides could take some lessons! Why do I like this book so much?  The Rockwood’s focus is empowering, affirmative, pragmatic, and practical.  There is no theory here – just plain fact.  The authors want you to know that if they did it you can too  – and not pay someone else to do it for you.  Everything the authors write is from personal experience – they have been successful with six of their own loan modifications and are working on another five.

They use actual letters and phone scenarios, fill in the blank to do lists, insider tips, action items, eye catching icons, etc. etc.  In addition, the Rockwood’s offer valuable advice on how to repair or maintain a solid credit rating and what lending institutions are really looking for in those reports.

So, if you or anyone you know is having trouble making a house payment do yourself a favor and check out How to Get A Loan Modification.  Oh, did I say there is a 100% money back guarantee?

Hats off to the Rockwoods for this valuable addition to any home owner’s arsenal of must have reference material.

Michael

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Real Estate is More Than Just an Investment – Making Your House a Home

The not-so-long ago heady years of real estate often seemed to be about making an investment, making a profit and moving on.

TV shows like “Flip this House”‘, blogs on flipping, and even a “Dummies Guide to Flipping” added to the idea that houses were little more than commodities for consumption.

But what about the old fashioned notion of buying a house to make it a home? A place to grow and nurture family and friends? A place to create memories and experiences? A place, that no matter what, is always “home.”

Akron, Ohio resident David Giffels (a journalist with the Akron Beacon Journal) has written a funny, heart-warming and, at times, heart-breaking memoir about that very process: All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House.

David and his wife, pregnant with their second child, and desperate for more room, finally settle on a run-down, soon to be condemned, early 20th century mansion. The once grand residence lacks functional plumbing and electricity, leaks like crazy, and is infested with all manner of wildlife. There is also beauty – an old staircase, a fireplace in the master bedroom, brass hinges, carved moldings. What follows is a heart-breaking/heart-warming story of how the work, the process of a house becoming a home, affects all their lives.

As I listened to Diane Rehm interview David the other day on her nationally syndicated show, two things caught my ear.

One was a caller who asked about the couple’s realtor and did he “push” them into buying what could easily be considered a “bad investment” just so he could get his commission. David’s response was what I hope we all aspire to.

The realtor did not want them to buy the property at all and thought it was a terrifically bad idea. But, once the Giffel’s made up their minds, the realtor did everything possible to make it a smooth transition – even going to bat with the Department of Health when it was declared uninhabitable!

The second thing? David says that when he is asked how much is house is worth now, he can’t even begin to answer the question. It’s no longer a house, it’s a home – for friends and family and memories.

Do you want to make a house a home for your family? Call me at 703.927.4554 and let’s see what we can find.

Michael

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Kids and Virginia – Where to Go, What to Do – All Year Round

Today when I was at the store (Potomac Yards Barnes & Noble), I saw two new books that seemed tailor made for anyone who:

The first is Fun with the Family – Hundreds of Ideas for Day Trips with the Kids– by Candyce Stapen ( $12.95). Stapen divides the book into six areas: the Shenandoah Valley, Tidewater and Hampton Roads, Northern Virginia, Eastern Shore, Central Virginia, and the Blue Ridge Highlands.

Within each section Stapen covers a wide range of activities from state parks to museums to homes or sites of historical interest and short descriptions accompany each. She also weaves topical “did you know” questions throughout as well as a plethora of fun facts. Where appropriate annual event calendars make for easy year round planning. Web sites and phone numbers are abundant as are places to stay and eat with a wide range of prices.

The second is Kids Love Virginia A Family Travel Guide to Exploring “Kid Tested” Places in Virginia Year Round by George and Michele Zavatsky.

In addition to breaking the state into six areas, with the more pedestrian monikers of Northeast, Northeast/DC, Northwest, South Central, South East, and South West, the Zavatsky’s offers a city index that I thought was useful for planning purposes.

The Zavatsky’s emphasize the importance of age appropriate venues and checking – and double checking – days and hours of operation. I thought Kids Love Virginia offered more detailed descriptions and I really like their seasonal and special events section.

Another feature was a suggested list of business and local government facilities that offer public “tours” with advance planning.

Among others on their list were airports, water treatment plants (great for science experiments), Pizza Hut, Papa Johns and, oh be still my beating heart, Krispy Kreme Donuts!

All you need now is a good map book – ready, set, go!

Virginia

Thanks to my spouse and managing partner for this week’s book report.

Posted by Michael Bergin | Currently 2 Comments »

Regional Titles Make Green Thumb Gardening – and Curb Appeal – Possible for Everyone

A long cool rainy spring delayed planting and even basic yard clean up for many of us in Northern Virginia.

But now, with half of June, and all of July, August and even September ahead, Alexandria homeowners should head to their nearest bookstore (we love the Barnes & Noble at Potomac Yard) for the very best in regional gardening books.

If you are new to gardening or any kind of yard care (even window boxes or simple pots), a regional guide to plants/flowers/vegetables will take the guess work out of what to buy and how to use it for maximum effect. A few hours of reading and planning will pay big dividends for big or small projects.


Some of our favorite books:

And for the complete novice, the classic Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch is a beginners delight.

Happy Gardening!

Michael

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