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The Hardest Farewell


Spending time in the screened room at our home in Birmingham, enjoying the peaceful view of nature and watching hummingbirds squabble over feeder rights was Heaven on earth for David L. Black.

David Luther Black passed away late the morning of June 12, 2013 at his home in Santiago, Chile.

The past five days of my life have been the worst I’ve ever experienced.

I’ve travelled more than 11,000 miles and spent nearly 24 hours in the air going to, and coming from, a place I’ve never been.

But I would not trade those days for anything.

It’s all for my Dad, the Grandfather Dragon.

My trip—from Birmingham 5,000 miles south to Santiago, Chile—was likely my last chance to tell David L. Black anything and everything I’ve ever wanted to say, but didn’t.

This trip was to say goodbye.

Frail and declining, barely able to talk and unable to move, my father may or may not have understood that I had travelled so far to see him, face to face where he lay, in the bedroom of his home, 12 stories up in the polluted air of Santiago, only a few miles west of the Andes mountains.

At one point, when asked if he knew who I was, he said he had no idea.

I will never know for sure, although my best guess is that he knew I was there, at least part of the time.

Dad and David2 copy

A father and his young son enjoy a horseback ride while on vacation in the mountains of Red River, New Mexico, early 1960s.

Although physically apart my entire adult life, my father and I have always been close.  We each had our own lifestyles, work and preferences about where to live.

E-mails and phone calls between us were routine.  On special occasions—maybe once every year or so on average—I would get to see him.  A few times, I might get to see him more than once in a year…quite a treat.  Only while I was a child would we live in the same city.  After that, never again.

Are you one of those people whose father was always close by?  Perhaps a few blocks or a few miles away?  If so, I am envious.

Christmases and birthdays were almost never spent together.  But presents always showed up; he never forgot.  His marriage to his Chilean wife saw him relocate from Washington, D.C., and later Miami, to Santiago several years ago.

2013-06-05 16.55.01

From Santiago, how easily the Andes mountains, east of downtown, can be seen, depends on the amount of smog on any given day.

With his health declining, I wanted to be close to help.  His decision to move to South America was not one I embraced comfortably.  But it was his call.

During the few days I spent with him in Santiago, I didn’t hold back on anything I had ever wanted to say.

Father and son enjoy a September 2006 visit to Birmingham's Pepper Place farmer's market.

Father and son enjoy a September 2006 visit to Birmingham’s Pepper Place farmer’s market.

I told him how thankful I am to him for all the things he has made possible in my life (that brought an unmistakable grin from ear to ear).

But as I reflect back on the man who has been a continuous part of my life for over half a century, I realize that I have to let go of someone who has been much more than just Dad.  

He has been my constant friend, my cohort, the person with whom I could always share stories of the exciting or mundane.

My childhood is full of great memories with my father that I get to keep for the rest of my days.

From spending time on the Texas coast, to going to church in my hometown of San Antonio, to all the times he took me to Jim’s restaurant to get my favorite hamburger, the number 6 (hickory sauce with onions).

There were countless tennis matches we played (including during a vacation to Bermuda), and trips to the bowling alley on San Antonio’s Austin Highway.

Like his son, my father was a prolific writer.  As a child, he would tell me dragon stories before bed.  These were stories he always built around me and my childhood cat, Smudge.

MAR 03 2011 03

Fisbo always loved visits from ‘Grandpa’ because they meant an extra lap for parking and petting.

In the stories, a young boy named David and his cat, Smudge, made friends with powerful but friendly dragons who never had contact with any other humans, but helped fight evil or alleviate problems for mankind’s benefit.  Not a story went by without dragons shooting out fire and smoke in a blast always titled, “WHOOSH!”

Nearly every story drew wisdom and lessons learned from a much older, wiser fire breathing Grandfather Dragon who, despite his advancing age, was all knowing and all powerful.

During the last several years, Colleen and I convinced Dad to write a few more dragon stories and send them to us.  Whenever a new story arrived via e-mail, reading it—devouring it, really—was a treat for both of us.

Dad played a huge role in my start in the broadcasting business, helping me get hired for my first real summer job as a 14-year-old disc jockey on radio station KVOP in Plainview, the small Texas panhandle town where he grew up.

Dad arranged for me to live with his mother that summer in the same house where he grew up.  Still too young to drive, I rode my bicycle to work.  But that was okay:  I making $1.35 an hour and was a DJ on the radio.  I was on cloud nine.  It didn’t get any better than that.

Dad stood by me when I made all my life’s decisions, be they good ones or poor.

Yet, despite having plenty of opportunities to do so, I cannot ever recall one time when he was critical of me for something I had done.


Born and raised in the small Texas panhandle town of Plainview, David L. Black would become a world traveler, with business projects taking him to Europe, Asia and, most frequently, South America.

I can’t count the number of times he would tell me how proud of me he was for various accomplishments.

If I shared the news of a previous Client contacting us in our real estate business to help them with another sale, he would typically respond by saying something like, “It’s obvious that people in Birmingham know what a good job the two of you do.”

Last summer, I received what I suspected then would be a fabulous gift.

My father came to the states and stayed with us in Birmingham for almost three weeks.  It was a wonderful visit.  This was the longest time we had spent together in over 30 years.

He needed time to unwind, and that’s exactly what he did.  More than anything, he loved sitting in our home’s screened porch, enjoying the view of nature, and petting Fisbo, our six pound poodle, who was thrilled that ‘Grandpa’ was visiting, since that meant another available lap to occupy for getting attention.

Dad told Colleen and me he felt ten years younger as a result of his stay.

We urged him to stay longer (the Father motel is always open, I assured him), but he said he had to go back to Chile to tend to matters there.  With his difficulty walking, I cringed at the thought of him having to endure twelve hours of flying, making connections, clearing customs and waiting in lines.


Visits to Birmingham always included dining out. Dad got a real kick out of the night we went to a Persian restaurant, complete with a belly dancer.

He said he would be back, but seeing him struggle more and more to even walk, I wondered whether his stay with us then would be his last.

As my father’s years advanced, his stay in Chile seemed to come at more and more of a price.  He told me of trying to join churches there, but never feeling welcome as a foreigner in such a vastly different culture.

In many ways, I sensed he felt lonely.

I tried to keep in regular contact.  Discussions often focused on how much fun it would be to see him again.  “I’m sure looking forward to getting back and seeing you two,” he would say.

While staying with us, he began attending services at The Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, a small church only a few blocks from our home.  The Rev. Lee Lowery, a friendly and welcoming pastor there, helped give my Dad the spiritual nourishment he had been unable to find elsewhere.  It gave me peace to know he had found this respite of compassion.

Knowing that his remaining days left are likely few, I declared June 8th as Father’s Day in Chile.  I opened the card I had written and read it aloud to him at his bedside:

You will always be my father, and I will always be grateful
for what you have made possible in my life.

Thank you for being my constant friend and guide.

As I write this, how much more time remains—be it days, weeks or longer—is not for me to know.

I owe him so much.  I knew I could never forgive myself if I didn’t try to see him one last time.

“You better get here as soon as you can,” family members said.

As our American Airlines Boeing 767 shot across the equator at 500 miles an hour in the middle of the night last week, I prayed he would hold on for me to get there.

I kissed his forehead.

I will never forget you, I told him.

And in a turnaround from what I’ve heard all my life from him, I told him how proud I am of him.

I cannot begin to describe how much I will miss him.

While sitting by his bed, watching his body struggle with every breath and holding his hand and stroking his forehead, I heard an unmistakable, clear-as-day sound I absolutely did not expect.


Dad APR 05 2008 03

If you need to slip away, that’s okay, Dad.

I love you, Dad.


Birmingham Home Sales Thoughts for 2012

As Fisbo, our highly spoiled six pound poodle, and I took our early morning walk a few days ago, I used the time to contemplate how our real estate business has evolved during 2011 and thought about what’s ahead as we kick off 2012.

Our walk was made rather intriguing because the neighborhood was shrouded in fog, limiting visibility sometimes to only a few hundred feet.

You can’t see very far ahead, and as you keep moving, what’s behind you grows increasingly vague.

Predicting home sale trends in Birmingham and Shelby County can be a little like walking into the fog:  You can see a certain distance in front of you, but after that, knowing what’s ahead gets tricky.

That’s not to say we’re in a fog about what will happen, market-wise, during 2012.  In fact, Colleen and I are optimistic that a lot of people will be buying and selling homes during ’12.

We think it’s going to be a busy and successful year.

Our optimism about ’12 is due in part to 2011, a year that was not only productive for us, but outperformed previous years.

For a lot of people in the Birmingham area, 2011 was a very difficult year, with the April 27th tornado affecting so many thousands of people and Jefferson County declaring the largest municipal bankruptcy in history.

I believe the new year will be one of healing and stories of success.

So, what does this mean for you if you’re thinking of buying or selling a home?  Okay, watch out, I’m getting out the crystal ball!

If  You’re Buying:

2012 will be a year of excellent opportunity.
You might have to spend a little more time picking and choosing than during previous years, because inventory in some areas has dropped.  This doesn’t mean the good deals are gone.  It just means you’ll have to do a little more work to find them.  An Agent with a good knowledge of the market as well as sharp negotiating skills will be one of your most valuable assets during this time.

Pricing will continue to be very much in your favor, but if you’re in search of a “steal,” you stand a greater chance of a Seller saying, “no deal.”  If inventory continues to drop, Sellers have less competition, and therefore less reason for agreeing to a “fire sale” Offer.
The Buyer who understands and accepts this still stands to get a very good deal.

With no sharp rise in mortgage interest rates on the horizon, ’12 is shaping up to be another year of tremendously low borrowing costs.

If You’re Selling:

You will be in a better position to get your home sold than in some previous years.   Home values will continue to be a big challenge, but the news isn’t all bad.  With the number of homes for sale dropping in some areas, what has been very much a Buyer’s Market shows signs of changing.  That’s a good thing, but the change is going to be gradual.

During ’11, we saw many homes sell for the same price they sold for ten years earlier.   This was great for the Buyer, but not for the Seller.  Seeing both Buyer and Seller bring checks to the closing table was not uncommon last year.

If you plan to sell during ’12, understanding one “fact of life” about the Birmingham and Shelby Co. real estate market will help:  The maximum a Buyer thinks your home is worth may wind up being significantly less than you had anticipated.

We do feel optimistic that the slide in values is beginning to ease.  This easing, however, is likely to be so slow and so slight that many people selling in 2012 may not feel it’s very noticeable.  It’s important to remember, though, that the slide in home values didn’t happen in a few weeks or months, but rather, took years.   Any correction won’t happen fast, either.

And then there’s the matter of your home’s condition.  Do you want your home to appeal to a majority of possible Buyers or only a few?  In the Birmingham and Shelby Co. area, the overwhelming majority of Buyers we work with want homes that are immaculate, need nothing done, and are “move-in” ready.  We do get calls from Buyers looking for places to fix up, but they expect to pay “bottom dollar” for the work they know they’ll have to do.

A 2011 High Point:

Of all the homes Colleen and I sold during 2011, one property we were particularly excited to sell was a home in Alabaster.

Price wise, this home was nowhere near our biggest sale.  But it’s not about the money.

The Seller had tried to sell five times before, starting three years ago, and not had success.
This was a sizable home in extremely nice, clean condition.  But the sales price had never been in alignment with what was taking place in the Shelby Co. market, and we didn’t feel that the property had been marketed correctly.

Lowering the price was not easy for the Seller to do.  But we worked hard in marketing the property, and our Seller worked hard, too, cooperating closely with us as we moved toward our common goal.

That team work finally paid off with a successful closing.

It pays to be a student of the market.  Many of the sales Colleen and I helped with here in the Birmingham area offer lessons to the wise if you’re thinking of selling during ’12.

A 2011 Low Point:

We had many successful sales last year.  But one home we listed in No. Shelby Co. was not destined to be one of them.  It stayed on market for five months and never received an Offer.  The home was not priced correctly, drew very little interest, and had significant structural issues cited by many of the few Buyers who actually looked inside.

During one phone call, the Seller (who had moved out but was still making monthly payments) says, “I really need to sell this house.”  Only seconds later—during the same conversation, as we discuss pricing—he says, “I’m not giving my house away.”

The Seller’s viewpoint could be summed up in five words:  Take it or leave it.

Buyers gave their answer.

The experiences from both our High Point and Low Point provide clear support for a prediction we’ll make for the year, though it’s not the boldest call I could make:  2012 will show that price and condition have never been more important in getting your home sold.

Changes To The Dictionary:

As we kick off ’12, I’m also deciding that it’s time to change the definition of some of the terms real estate Agents use (hmmm …  am I allowed to do that?).

Agents have long referred to motivated and unmotivated Sellers.  These categories don’t exist any longer.  A Seller who is determined to do what it takes to get their home sold is, by definition, motivated.  They will adjust their price as needed and will make sure their home is immaculate (as so many folks we worked with did last year).  These are the people who, in all likelihood, will get to sit at a closing table.

The unmotivated Seller is typically unwilling to price attractively enough to receive an Offer.  They also choose not to deal with with the moldy smell in the basement or the rotted wood that needs to be replaced.  This person is not a Seller.  They are a home owner.  If they do happen to receive an Offer, it is likely to be for an extremely low price.

This year will be another time of great opportunity in real estate.  If you’re giving thought to buying or selling a home, you no doubt have questions.  Whether you’re a veteran or just starting out, Colleen and I hope you will feel welcome to contact us for assistance.

Feel free to call us at 205.356.5412 or 205.677.8686.  Or e-mail us at:

And we’re on Facebook, if you’d like to join us.

As for walking through the fog, I look forward to it.  What might be ahead may not always be known, but if you’re determined to keep moving, the scene gets clearer as you forge onward.

Our optimism and positive thinking have us excited … we know there are lots of opportunities ahead.

We look forward to being part of your 2012 success story…


March Brings Snow To Alabama

Wow, you just don’t see scenes like this in Shelby County (or Alabama) very often!

I’m not sure Fisbo, our spoiled poodle, is a snow poodle.  He seemed a lot more interested in climbing up my leg and being held while I was shooting pictures:

And yes, through rain, sleet or snow … we are still showing houses.  In fact, we’ll be showing a home to buyers in the Alabaster area in just another couple of hours—snow or no snow!


Buy-Downs: Helping Buyer And Seller

So, you have to knock the price way, way down to get your home sold? Not always. While price is certainly important when it comes to getting your home sold, it’s not the only way to achieve a successful sale.

Ever heard of a buy-down? Lots of people have, but not everyone understands it. It’s not as complicated as you might think.

KC Haririan, First Federal Mortgage

KC Haririan, First Federal Mortgage

A buy-down could be the ticket to getting a home sold in a deal that’s better for the seller and the buyer.

K. C. Haririan, a Loan Officer with First Federal Mortgage in Birmingham, is here to explain how buy-downs work.

So, how is the Shelby Co. and Birmingham home market looking as we forge ahead into 2009? We’ll share our thoughts and observations–and we’ll see if Fisbo, our very spoiled five pound poodle, barks during our recording session.

Click the player just below to listen:

Fisbo,the wonder dog

Fisbo, the wonder dog

Care to download the program so you can listen to it later?

Click here to download…

We hope you enjoy the netcast!

David, Colleen and Fisbo

Bama Barkery: Healthy Treats For Alabama Dogs

Michael and Johnna Mathews felt Gracie and Sister Sue, their two black labrador mixes, deserved better treats than they could find in stores around Birmingham and Shelby county. So, armed with cookie sheets, rolling pin and oven, the McCalla couple decided to try their hand at creating canine treats that are healthy as well as tasty.

Bama Barkery owners Michael and Johnna Mathews (photo by Alisha Bamberg)

Bama Barkery owners Michael and Johnna Mathews (photo by Alisha Bamberg)

Their efforts led to the April, 2007, birth of Bama Barkery, a business that provides wholesome, homemade treats for dogs. And yep, you can take a bite out of a Pumpkin Paw or any of Bama Barkery’s other treats yourself, because all are made with ingredients safe for human consumption.

We caught up with Michael and Johnna during Bark In The Park, a fun event for pet owners held in Alabaster’s Veterans Park October 3rd. Michael shares with us the tale (or should it be tail?!) of how Bama Barkery turned in to a lot more than just treats for Gracie and Sister Sue (who, by the way, are official taste testers for the company).

Michael greets visitors interested in Pumpkin Paws

Michael greets visitors interested in Bama Barkery Pumpkin Paws

Right now, you can order Bama Barkery products on line, but who knows … it may not be long before you see PB & O’s, Love Me Slenders or some of their other treats in area stores, too. And in case you’re wondering, Fisbo, our five pound spoiled rotten poodle, has given his stamp of approval to Bama Barkery’s treats!

Click the player just below to hear Michael — enjoy!