(approx.. 11 minutes)
The time was 1969. The place was Joplin Missouri. My wife Winnie and I were on our second motor trip around the U.S., driving our new gold convertible, a Ford Crown Victoria. I wanted to stop in Joplin because my movie star pen pal, Bob Cummings, lived in Joplin as a boy. He and I became friends as a result of our mutual friend, and my uncle Fred Miller, his dentist. In our correspondence and exchange of funny stories, we talked about Joplin and uncle Fred. You may read more about this amusing happenstance with Bob Cummings in another story on my blog page, entitled “THE KIDNAPPING”.
In 1969, I was serving as president of my Board of REALTORS in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. I was also chairman of the Pennsylvania State Real Estate contracts and forms committee. In this capacity, on my cross-country trip, one of my goals was to collect and examine the real estate forms used by REALTORS in other states. I visited about 30 real estate boards that year and gleaned a lot of information about varying financing and real estate practices around the country. This was one I shall always remember.
When I reached Joplin Missouri, the real estate board was not listed in the phone book. I parked on the main street in front of a REALTOR’s office with the name Haskill B. Warden, in gold letters on the smoked up store front window. It was a typical old time mid western strip store in the middle of the block, something like artist Norman Rockwell would paint of old time middle America. The window had not been washed in a few years and it was almost opaque from smoke, making it impossible to see inside.
Winnie and I walked through the front door. We were greeted by a be-whiskered and bespeckled senior citizen, comfortably sitting in a lean back swivel armchair. His booted feet were up on a radiator under the smoked up front window. He sported an old western style Stetson hat on the back of his head as he examined the passing mobile and foot traffic. Next to his chair was and old tarnished brass spittoon on a spotted and splattered blackened, pine floor. There were also two old, well aged, oak desks and a couple of straight back oak wooden chairs. A door leading to a back room was slightly ajar. There was smoke wafting out from a pungent pipe tobacco smoker, somewhere behind that door.
Without getting up, the old timer asked, “Help ya mister?” “ Yes”, I replied, and explained that I was looking for the board of REALTORS. He tilted his head toward the backroom and said loudly, “Haskill, there’s a feller here looking for the board of REALTORS. You wanna tell ‘em or shall I?” “Well, Send him on in”, was a rather loud but friendly response from the back room. We complied and entered the back room. There was the pipe smoker, a man behind a desk. Without getting up, he pointed to the two chairs and said, “Howdy folks, come on in and set a spell. My name is Haskell B. Warden. Who are you, where are you from and what can I do for you?”
I explained that I was president of my board of REALTORS in Pennsylvania, looking for the Joplin board of REALTORS, to sample some of their forms. He said, “Well sir, you’re standing right smack in the middle of it. The board’s secretary Ellie took a couple of days off to have a baby. I am the board president of this here Joplin Board, and have been for the last five years. Ain’t nobody else wants the job.” I explained my mission to research practices in financing and forms. He replied, “Well mister, I tell ya, I’ll be glad to swap stories with ya! You answer a question for me and I’ll answer one for you, OK? And I’m sure glad you stopped by.” He said, “I want to know how you finance them homes back east. I heard about them FHA and veterans financing. We don’t much need them kind of deals out here. No need. Had to do a veterans mortgage once. Almost lost my religion before I got done. You do much of that?“ “Almost 100%”, I replied. “Glory be”, he said.
I seized the opportunity of the moment and asked him about the way he financed home sales in and around Joplin. “Well”, he says “it depends on for whom and what their needs be. Here in Joplin, you first need is a small black book, like this one here in my pocket, with names of folks who want to invest in mortgages. Then there’s the bank. They do that fancy government financing. In my book, I list them names by the amount of cash they have to invest. $1,000, $2000, $3,000 etc, all the way up to $10,000 for some houses. Then there’s other pages for bigger numbers, but I usually go to the bank for them.”
“It was just last week”, he continued, “that Pricilla Mae Jones, our 3rd grade school teacher here, said to me, ‘Haskel, I got about $4,000 I want to invest. Can you get me another one of those mortgages at around 7% interest?’ We had done business before. I wrote her name on the $4,000 page, and it didn’t take me but a week before I found her one.” He had more stories to tell me. “Charlie and Betty Billings, good folks with 2 kids, wanted to buy a nice house from the family of the widow Betsy Smith. They only needed $4,500. Charlie and Betty were delighted with that house. Just one look inside and they said, ‘Let’s made a deal.’ I called Pricilla May and told her the Billings needed $4,000.00 mortgage. She said, ‘that will be just fine Haskell, I’d be mighty happy to give them a mortgage. Their daughter was in one of my classes. Fine People, them Billings. I’d be proud to invest in that mortgage.’
”The Next day I sat with my lawyer friend Henry Albright, for breakfast, grits, coffee and sticky buns, at the Joplin Town Café and Luncheonette, right there, across the street. Lawyer Henry said he’d look up the title the next day in the courthouse and give me his legal opinion, if it were OK. He said to me, ‘You make up the agreement to purchase and I’ll draw up the deed and the mortgage papers. My fee, including my written opinion on the title, gonna’ you cost about $100.’ I agreed.”
“I typed up the agreement my own-self, everyone signed it and that was the deal. We all met in my office the following Wednesday and closed the transaction. That’s the way I do it here, and I collected my commission of 6%. Now, how do you do It back east?”
I said, “Mr. Warden, you don’t even want to know. I only wish I could move my office to Joplin. You have taught me how easy it can be to be a REALTOR in Joplin Missouri.”
“But since you asked: let me tell you how we earn our commission: We have things to do: 1) List the property with the Multiple Listing Service of our Board of REALTORS, erect a sale sign, market and advertise for a financially qualified buyer. 2) When we find a buyer we have to prepare a lengthy agreement of sale, usually three or more pages of small type, and prepare a good faith estimate of settlement costs for the buyer. Then prepare an estimated net proceeds statement for the seller. 3) Have the seller approve the offer and agreement of sale. 4) Have a mortgage company representative take an application for a mortgage from the buyer. 5) The mortgage company must order a real estate appraisal of the property for the mortgage company. 6) Order a home construction inspection with certifications, on proper non-toxic insulation, no aluminum wiring, certified dry wall in some areas, etc., and whatever else may be required by the mortgage company, FHA or VA. 7) We order a termite and radon inspection and whatever other inspections the transaction requires, like flood zones certifications, etc. 8) Order a title search and report from a title insurance company 9) Prepare a new deed or arrange for the title insurance company to prepare it. 10) Arrange for a walk through inspection by the buyer be sure the house is vacant and clean. 11) Schedule a settlement, usually in a title insurance company office. 12) Arrange for all parties to be at settlement, and sign all papers for mortgage and title insurance companies. At this time about 90 days usually has expired. 13) When settlement has been made, we then notify the board of REALTORS of the sale and remove our sold sign. This list was as of 1998. There are at least a dozen more things required with FHA or VA financing now. That is how we earn our 6%.”
Haskel just shook his head and said: “Unbelievable. How did you people ever get in such a mess?” I said, “It was easy. We just never knew how simple it was your way.”
I thanked him, and on the way out the door I turned back and said, “Say by the way, do you remember Bob Cummings who lived in this town?” ”Hell yeah”, he responded. “Lemme tell ya about Bob and me. We used to go skinny dippin’ in the widow Brown’s lake in back of her house when the sun went down. She had two pretty daughters who used to watch us from their back porch with binoculars. We knew it and we gave them some real skinny dippin’ eyeball treats. Sure I knew Bob. Funny feller. Heard tell he became a movie star. You know him?” I smiled and said, “I sure do, but that’s another story”.