New York City Visit

Posted by leetabas

New York City Visit

Nancy and I wanted to reward ourselves – we received both of our COVID shots, so we planned an overnight in New York City.  The secondary purpose of our visit was to see how the city looked.  We had not visited New York for a year since the pandemic began.

We stayed in the Conrad Hotel in Lower Manhattan. The staff could not have been nicer and we felt perfectly safe. The room had been empty for 72 hours prior to our visit. There must have been only a few people in the hotel that evening, although there was supposed to be a group coming in the next night that booked the entire hotel for a week. There were no hints as to the nature of the group.

We visited the David Hockney art exhibit at the JP Morgan Library and Museum.  Our plan was to walk; we could use the exercise.  Second, we still wanted to avoid exposure on the subway or cabs.  There was good interest in the exhibit but we also felt the Museum planned the proper number of visitors for the space.

We met Jimmy Roberts, my cousin at the exhibit.  Afterwards, I wanted a coffee. We tried three coffee shop/restaurants before we found a take out Sushi place that was open. I substituted Green tea which also has lots of caffeine.  My estimate would be that 25% of the restaurants and storefronts in the city either were closed or out of business.  That percentage might be a good one for some other elements city life. I would say the traffic was 25% lighter than usual, both vehicular and foot traffic.

Construction is going on most everywhere in the city as it is in most places.

There were some bubble structures with individual tables at the El Vez Mexican restaurant outside our hotel. We decided that looked safe to dine in.  It was a tad cold, but fun.

The next day, we drove down Fifth Avenue.  The area looked pretty much the same as always with the Plaza Hotel, Saks, and the upscale jewelers.

As we left the hotel in Battery Park, we drove through an area once filled with warehouses that have been repurposed to apartments and other uses. We wondered how excess office space in New York will be repurposed as we come out of the pandemic.

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LEE TABAS is available as a consultant, director, or expert. Areas of expertise include: banking & business matters: loans, deposits, administration, collection, leadership, liability, business turnarounds, and conflicts of interest. Experience as a Trustee for Trust and Foundations.  Please call for further information.

 

The Future of Work

Posted by leetabas

Winter 2021

COVID-19 has accelerated some trends. One is the move away from in-person purchases, favoring delivery. I don’t like it; I try to buy from stores as much as I can, but it is pretty clear that the future of retail is bleak, particularly for neighborhood stores.  Another trend is that the disparity between the haves and the have nots, which has widened. People working in foodservice and retail, lower paid occupations, are out of work, while lawyers, doctors, and techs may work remotely. Wealthy people benefitted from a buoyant stock market increasing the wealth gap.

Congress addressed the real problems of unemployed and low income Americans by passing the CARES act.   The CARES act provided “Economic Impact Payments” of $1,200 for adults earning up to $99,000 per year, and an additional $600 weekly for adults earning less than $75,000 per year.  These payments and recent newer rounds have kept our economy going, and helped people in need stay afloat. The Biden administration proposes similar further programs.

This sounds a lot like a Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI), although no one is calling it that.  When stated in that way, some might think of able- bodied people sitting around watching TV and drinking all day.  But GMI has been advocated by many prominent economists, including James Tobin, Paul Samuelson, and John Kenneth Galbraith. The cost can be funded by additional taxes, elimination of other social programs such as unemployment, or simply printing money.  The CARES act was funded by printing money. Money from the CARES act, or other GMI-like programs stimulates the economy, as the people receiving it spend that money for necessities.

It was always my belief that when jobs were lost, such as retail jobs, other jobs are created.  The US Bureau of Labor Statistics states occupations that will be growing the most 2019-2029.  They are in no particular order: nurses, wind turbine techs, solar installers, statisticians, fast food workers and cooks, software developers, occupational and physical therapists, health and medical aides and technicians, information technology, numerically controlled tool operators, massage therapists.

We know which professions are the higher earners in the above.  Paraphrasing my old Samuelson economics textbook, if someone is the best waiter and also the best software developer in town, they should spend their time developing software, because it pays the best.  Higher paying jobs require TRAINING.  I hope that we will see the Biden administration propose a program where ambitious people without the advantages can afford training so that they can take steps up the earnings ladder.

We’ve got lots of challenges.  Health care spending consumes too much of our Gross Domestic Product. Lines of cars idling are warming the planet and creating erratic weather.  The green economy is here, not because it is subsidized, but because it makes economic sense.  There will be new, well-paying jobs, but people will need training.  I believe the government has a role to play in this.  It is reminiscent of the new deal following the 1929 crash and depression providing jobs. This time it should be providing training for jobs.

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TABASFUNDING has been providing funds in the form of loans from $100,000-$750,000 to entrepreneurs who want to expand or acquire businesses.  We will look at other business situations which require capital, effort, management, and patience. It will take a while to find out who the winners are in the current environment. If you think you have one, and need funding, please contact me directly at 610-896-2400 or Lee@TABASFUNDING.com.

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LEE TABAS is available as a consultant, director, or expert. Areas of expertise include: banking & business matters: loans, deposits, administration, collection, leadership, liability, business turnarounds, and conflicts of interest. Experience as a Trustee for Trust and Foundations.  Please call for further information.

Customer Service

Posted by leetabas

Fall 2020

We have a vacation condo in Vermont that we started visiting again. We subscribe to Xfinity (Comcast) for telephone, TV, and internet. The Triple Play package had been running $79.99 per month. In July, that went to $105 per month- a 35% increase; breathtaking in these days of low inflation.

In Pennsylvania, we use Verizon. When I see a bump in the monthly pricing, I call Verizon, and usually the Customer Service Representative (CSR) is able to find a promotion program to blunt the increase.

I called the Comcast number, and the automated response suggested that I log on to Xfinity.com for best service. In order to do that, I would have to set up an online account – never mind that I already am a customer.  I would have to provide part of my social security number and other sensitive information.  This bothers me; my social security number should be private, only for important matters- banking, health.  So, I could not access our account online.

I called the Comcast number again.  It offered choices, none of which was to speak with a CSR.

There are no alternatives to Comcast service in our area of Vermont.  Nancy called the Vermont Public Utilities Commission, which was helpful, even though they have no authority over internet service providers. They apparently did contact Comcast.

The response reminded me of Red Adair, the famous oil well firefighter parachuting in to put out fires.  We received a call from a dulcet-voiced, empathetic and likeable woman.  After a discussion, we managed to get a $5 discount from the proposed increase.  If we returned the video recorder “box”, for one that does not record, we could get another $10 monthly off our bill.  It was not easy to return the box- we took it to the local Comcast office; a sign on the door said due to Covid, the office was closed to visitors.  Comcast sent us a new, non-recording box, and we returned the one that we had.

Comcast has a lot of Chutzpah asking for that size increase in the midst of an economic slowdown.  On the other hand, as a business person, if they can get it, more power to them.

Along with the new “box”, we received hard copy of a Disclosure Document and Customer Agreement. For any business dealing with the public today, it is smart to make complete disclosure.  The Disclosure and Agreement, in several languages was…100 pages.

Not being able to reach a CSR on the phone is a big negative.  If we were under 40, perhaps we could set up the new “box” without help. A few minutes on the telephone with a knowledgeable person would have made it much easier. Since I couldn’t get someone on the telephone, I filled out an online inquiry form. A few days later, someone did call, but by that time we’d figured it out.

My career has been in banking and hospitality, where you live or die by customer service.  Being great at resolving problems is key to maintaining and gaining customers. Comcast may save labor costs by not offering CSR’s by telephone, but in the long run it will hurt them.  Given the choice of providers, I will go with the one I can get on the telephone.

We had another customer service experience with a shower door we purchased at Home Depot.  Because of the size and weight, we requested that it be shipped.  We were given a 12-hour window for delivery, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Home Depot said that they would call us ½ hour before delivery.  We loitered around most of the day, and did not receive a call.  Around 4 p.m., a truck pulled into the condo parking lot.  It was apparent that the two men were father and son, and that this was a contract firm delivering for Home Depot. They unloaded the door box, and started wheeling it towards our unit, which was the last one on the walkway.  The son wore a mask, while the father had none. I commented “where’s your mask”? He angrily replied that he was outside and he didn’t need one.  At the same time, he turned the cart with the door around, backtracked 20 or 30 feet further away, and unloaded the box as well as a heavy pallet, onto the walkway.   The pallet was used to load the door onto the truck at Home Depot. I asked him to take it away, but he declined.

Normally, delivery people try to accommodate, and I usually give them a tip, but not this pair.  I called Home Depot and got Jeff, the manager on duty. He listened to our story and came out the next day to pick up the pallet.

As a positive example of customer service, we purchased a new mattress after 20 or so years. Mattress Firm arranged a 2-hour delivery window, and offered real time tracking of the truck so we could know when to expect them.  The delivery people, who also appeared to be an outside contractor, wore booties into the house, disassembled and removed the old bed frame, assembled the new one, and were in and out without lots of fuss. I tipped them.

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TABASFUNDING has been providing funds in the form of loans from $100,000-$750,000 to entrepreneurs who want to expand or acquire businesses.  We will look at other business situations which require capital, effort, management, and patience. It will take a while to find out who the winners are in the current environment. If you think you have one, and need funding, please contact me directly at 610-896-2400 or Lee@TABASFUNDING.com.

_________________________________

LEE TABAS is available as a consultant or an expert witness. Areas of expertise include: banking & business litigation matters: loans, deposits, administration, collection, leadership, liability, and conflicts of interest. Experience as a Trustee for Trust and Foundations.  Please call for further information.

_________________________________

For uniquely designed bicycle clothing and gear, contact Melissa Tabas, Proprietor, LASER CATS AND SUCH, Lasercatsandsuch.bigcartel.com, 610-308-4433.

United States Postal Service – Vital for America

Posted by leetabas

We strongly support the United States Post Office. Traveling across the country, in small towns and large cities, the presence of a Post Office can crystallize a place of gathering and center of commerce.  Small businesses rely on the Post Office for delivery and billing.  People with relatives or business abroad rely on the Post Office for guidance on safe mailing.

By all means, let’s improve and make it more efficient.  Is private enterprise for the Post Office bad?  Not necessarily; there is precedent. Ben Franklin was postmaster of Philadelphia, and later of all the colonies. He was compensated by a commission of 10% of all stamps purchased, plus franking privileges.

With creative thinking, service can become better. In 1760, according to the Walter Isaacson Ben Franklin Biography, the Colonial Post Office first turned a profit.

Political controversy is not new to the Post Office. The British sought to use the Colonial Post office, of which Ben Franklin was Postmaster, to suppress independence. Later, Franklin was tapped to set up the United States Postal System; which quickly displaced the Colonial System.

Let’s be open to change, not for suppression, but for improvement.

Bring Back the Savings Account

Posted by leetabas

Summer 2020

When I was a kid, my father preached the magic of saving and compound interest. “Saving is earning”, he used to say. I saved part of my allowance, along with money that I earned, and opened a savings account at Bryn Mawr Trust. That “saving is earning” philosophy continued into my banking career, and continues today.

Suze Ormond recently wrote an article for AARP magazine and talked about the financial benefits of saving and investing. You keep your auto after paying off the auto loan, and instead of trading in for a new car with new loan payments, you invest that money. If you earn a 5% compounded return, at the end of 6 years you would have an extra $50,000.

The problem with this philosophy today is that with the low interest rate environment, there is no magic of compounding. It used to be that retirees and others could open a savings account or a bank CD and earn 3, 4, 5%, without risk. This supplemented their income each month; but not anymore. There is still a Bryn Mawr Trust and they still offer a savings account, but the current rate is .05%. That’s not half a percent; that is five hundredths of a percent.

Over the last 30 years, emphasis has moved from encouraging savings to encouraging borrowing. Loan interest paid is mostly tax deductible. Credit cards are easy to get; small business loans are more available than ever before. In economics, we learned that banks can create money by making loans. I have my money in a savings account, and when the bank lends it out, that person has the money as well, doubling it, which supports economic growth. Lower interest rates in general do help the economy, although I don’t think that the current ultra-low rates really help more than the low rates that preceded them.

There used to be other opportunities for savers to earn better returns without getting into the stock market. Savings accounts, savings bonds, CDs and tax free bonds offered the saver a decent return. Much of the attractiveness of tax frees was phased out by the tax act of 1986.

I don’t know if the Federal Reserve takes into consideration the small saver. With interest rates so low, the only choices are to earn almost nothing with money in the bank, or to go into the stock market. Recent events have shown how volatile that can be. In the long haul, the stock market goes up, but stock investing is not suitable for lots of people. People who are reluctant – as they should be – about going into the market, are easy prey for the charlatans offering “worry free” investments that turn out to be illiquid, and have fees.

I don’t know if the Fed considers “big” savers? Pension funds and insurance companies need to be conservative with their investments, which is not compatible with stock markets. If they can’t earn decent returns, pension funds will be underfunded. Insurance companies will have to raise premiums.
With all the support for the economy and workers these days, why not bring back a savings account or a “Coronavirus Bond” for low income savers, where a decent risk-free return can be had, and subsidize it to say 3% for up to $25,000? With all the other subsidizing the government has done lately, what’s a few more bucks?

It would set young savers on the right path, and help seniors and retirees. I hear from my assistant, whose daughter is a teenager that most young people today don’t think about saving- only spending.

With all the bright minds, perhaps they can come up with a product or way of de-risking investment and increasing return for the little guys without subsidy. I used to say in the banking business, we don’t have to be superstars, and do better than everyone else; an ordinary return is OK, just as long as we don’t screw up.
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Since 2002, TABASFUNDING has been providing funds in the form of loans from $100,000-$750,000 to entrepreneurs who want to expand or acquire businesses. We will look at other business situations which require capital, effort, management, and patience. If you run across a situation, please call for further information.
_________________________________
LEE TABAS is available as a director, trustee, or consultant. Background in community banking and entrepreneurship. Experience as a Trustee for Trust and Foundations. Please call for further information.
_________________________________
For uniquely designed bicycle clothing and gear, contact Melissa Tabas, Proprietor, LASER CATS AND SUCH, Lasercatsandsuch.bigcartel.com, 610-308-4433.

Goodbye, Fat City

Posted by leetabas

This cartoon used to hang in my office when I was in banking, and its hanging in my office now at TABASFUNDING.  I don’t think the banks are the ones at risk this time, but other businesses are. Humor couldn’t hurt!

Israel- Land of Conflicts; Egypt- Land of Antiquities

Posted by leetabas

Winter 2020

We’d been to Israel half a dozen times when Shir Shalom Synagogue of Woodstock, Vermont organized a trip.  I hoped that we could get some behind-the-scenes insight.  Egypt was on our bucket list, so we extended the trip to travel there.

In Israel, there is not much mixing of Arabs and Jews. Lack of personal knowledge leads to mistrust and fear. So does misinformation; an army instructor told us she taught history to new inductees.  She quantified Israeli AND Arab war casualties. Her superiors told her that she should only state the Israeli casualties.  When we visited the archaeology site of the original City of David, we had a panoramic view of the Arab village of Silwan across the valley.  Although there were many signs at the site, there was no sign about the Arab village, nor did our guide mention it. 

We support the Arava Institute in Israel, a graduate environmental school that brings together Arabs, Jews, and others for education and dialogue.  There are more than 1,000 alumni. We learned that there are other organizations bringing Jews and Arabs together.  “Roots” brings Palestinians and Jewish settlers in occupied territories together.  Sindyanna is a cooperative of Jewish and Arab women who cultivate, process and market olive based products.  We’ve started gifting their “Extra Peaceful Olive Oil”.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews make up about 15% of the population in Israel.  Because of a deal with Israel’s first Prime Minister, they don’t serve in the army, a source of tension between them and secular Israelis, about 60% of the population. Orthodox control state religion, including who is considered a Jew. 

I thought that only Orthodox Judaism is practiced in Israel, but I was wrong.  We attended Kehillat Kol Haneshima, a beautiful reform synagogue. There are more than 60 reform synagogues.  Non-orthodox weddings in Israel are not recognized, but there was more pluralism than I expected.

We met with Anat Hoffman, attorney and founder of Women of the Wall movement.  Women were not able to approach the Western Wall holy site because zealots in charge of religion wouldn’t permit it.  After years of protesting, there is now a women’s area, although women still will be arrested if they try to bring a Torah- a holy book.

Israel Religious Action Committee, “IRAC” aims to defend equality, social justice and religious pluralism in Israel, with some impressive wins to show for it. My impression after hearing about the IRAC successes is that the legal system in Israel is vibrant and robust.

Israel is booming right now.  The country is loaded with tourists. Bus after bus stacked up in traffic on winding old city roads.  Waze was developed in Israel, but it’s not much help with traffic there.  Hotels were packed with visitors.  Many Christian pilgrims come to see the Holy Land.  Perhaps because terrorism is everywhere now, people are not afraid to come.

We stayed two nights in Haifa, the best port in Israel.  Israel has given Jordan part of the harbor as its’ own Mediterranean port.  The port has a dedicated rail line across Israel to Jordan. It’s clear that Israel values this relationship.

We had a compelling presentation from a James Bond type, a retired spy handler representing Alma, an Israeli security think tank.  While homemade rockets from Gaza make news, the bigger threat is the alignment of Iran with Syria.  This allows Iran to move its rockets closer to Israel. That makes targeting more accurate, since rockets have less distance to travel.  The James Bond guy was close mouthed about counteractive steps Israel is taking. If the talk was designed to impress that Israel lives in a tough neighborhood and needs continuing American military aid, it succeeded.

Travel to Egypt from Tel Aviv was easy, if you knew about it. There is a three time- per- week flight from Tel Aviv to Cairo on Air Sinai (part of Egypt Air).  In the magazine in the plane seat pocket “where we fly” map, Tel Aviv was not listed.  I guess they don’t want to offend Arabs. 

Egypt is a different world, with 100 million people living in an area about the size of Texas.  But that is incorrect; 22 million live in one city, Cairo, and the rest of the population live in a band a few miles on either side of the Nile River, running south to north.  Cairo is smoggy and dirty with horrendous traffic, but filled with life. 

Tourism is off since the Arab Spring in 2011.   We were concerned about safety before we came, but were encouraged to walk where directed and felt perfectly safe by ourselves. The Pyramids are right near Cairo. We stayed at Marriott Mena House, a hotel dating from the 1860’s at the foot of the Sphynx and Pyramids.   Egyptians in the hotels where we stayed were well trained and helpful. 

We flew to Luxor, about 300 miles away.  Nearby are the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Karnak and Luxor temples.  Outside of that strip of Nile irrigated land, the desert is as dry and lifeless a place as I’ve ever seen.  Mummies buried were preserved because of that dryness. The details, expansiveness and preservation of the 3,500-4,000 year old temples is hard to believe. The quality and depth of the antiquities in Egypt overwhelms.  

Downsides of a visit:

Everyone expects “baksheesh”, a tip, except in hotels.  The country needs jobs and as a result, the two of us had 3 staffers; a guide, driver, and trip coordinator. Airport staff are not well trained.  On our departure, something in my suitcase set off the scanner.  The man (they are almost all men) did not get up from his chair but turned the screen to me to figure out what set it off.  After I sorted through everything the man finally relented when Nancy started to get upset.

Egypt could get back on the USA tour map.  Better courtesy training for the airport staff would be on the list.  Improved cleanliness of restrooms at tourist sites would be another.

The antiquities are already there.

Information Grab

Posted by leetabas

Fall 2019

Our cell phone bill seemed expensive.  I wondered if there was a more reasonable plan that would suit our needs, so I called ATT, our service provider.  The person was friendly, and asked for my password. I gave what I believed to be the password, but the representative said that was the ATT online password. She needed a telephone password in order to speak with me. 

I didn’t have one, and in order to set one up, she said that she needed the last 4 digits of my social security number. As we know, our social security numbers are tied to important things; Medicare, retirement money.  Why should I have to provide any part of my Social Security number to the cell phone company? I declined, and said rather than provide the information, I would go online to review the cell plans offered. My ATT online account was already set up.

I entered the username and the password, and then another screen popped up: “To be sure that your account is up to date, please provide and answer two secret questions”. 

I was not able to bypass that screen, and had to provide answers.  Several of the questions were: “What was your first model of car?  What was your mother’s maiden name? What was the first concert that you attended?”

I don’t see that it’s any of ATT’s business knowing this.  I made up fake answers. These kinds of questions should be reserved for important stuff; bank accounts, insurance, retirement.

Criminals steal information in millions of accounts from one big company or another. Why is it so important that ATT have the last 4 digits of my Social Security number, or know my mother’s maiden name?  In 2009, Carnegie Mellon did a study and concluded that it was not difficult for experts to predict the first 5 digits of a person’s social security number. If that is the case, if crooks get the last 4 of the 9 digits that is all they need.

I was not able to find much about restrictions on what information may be requested of consumers.  Businesses may not request information about sex, race, religion, or marital preference most of the time, except for government survey purposes.  The US only monitors safety of cell phones; it does not get involved in contracts, or information collected.  States may do some regulation, but that relates to cell phone coverage areas.

I would far prefer that someone hacks into my cell phone account as opposed obtaining some of my personal information from the cell phone company, which perhaps could be assembled with information from elsewhere to get into my bank account or steal my identity. 

There is some interest right now in restricting information. Pete Buttigieg mentioned on the campaign trail that he would like to see a “right to be forgotten” law in the US, similar to Europe, where if requested, companies could not sell or use information relating to you.  

What I would like to see is restrictions on what personal information companies can request, what they can keep, and what they can sell. With restrictions on what information may be requested, it would be good to have a cap on damages for the consumer, similar to the cap that we have on credit cards if a crook gets your card information.  A cap of $50 exposure in case of someone getting into your cell phone account and running up a big bill would be a good benefit, and the cell phone companies probably correct your bill anyway now in such cases. 

Have you had these experiences and do you share my concerns? Please let me know your thoughts.  
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Since 2002, TABASFUNDING has been providing funds in the form of loans from $100,000-$750,000 to entrepreneurs who want to expand or acquire businesses.  We will look at other business situations which require capital, effort, management, and patience.  If you run across a situation, please call for further information.

_________________________________

LEE TABAS is available as a consultant or an expert witness. Areas of expertise include: banking & business litigation matters: loans, deposits, administration, collection, leadership, liability, and conflicts of interest. Experience as a Trustee for Trust and Foundations.  Please call for further information.

  _________________________________

For uniquely designed bicycle clothing and gear, contact Melissa Tabas, Proprietor, LASER CATS AND SUCH, Lasercatsandsuch.bigcartel.com, 610-308-4433.

Response to an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer

Posted by leetabas

Below is a response to an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  I think it may be of general interest.  Please share your thoughts about it with me.  Lee @TABASFUNDING.

An op-ed piece in the Thursday, August 8, 2019 Inquirer by Rachel Micah-Jones was headlined “U.S. summer visa program exploits international workers.” My observation of summer workers is that they are mostly college students that want the American experience. They work as camp counselors and serve ice cream in seashore towns.  I’ve met seasonal waiters that work in mountain resorts in the summer, and the Caribbean in the winter.  If the college students felt exploited, they would tell their friends, and soon there would be no more applicants for these positions.  Seasonal hotel waiters often return to work in the US, year after year. If they felt exploited, they would not return. 

Another article in the paper covered a raid on chicken processing plants in Louisiana.  680 illegal workers were arrested.  Even though Elvis was a chicken plucker early in his career, this work struggles to find US Citizens who want to do it.  The H2A and B programs, which are for temporary seasonal farm and non-farm workers ought to be expanded.  These programs started during WW I and II to make up for the labor shortage, and continue to this day.  At the present time, there is about a 270,000 cap on the number of H2A and B workers. That may sound like a lot, but of the 800,000 US farm workers, there is general agreement that about half are illegal immigrants. 

Diane Feinstein, Democratic senator from California, suggests that we streamline and expand the H2A farm worker program, and try to get some of the current illegal workers into it. Sounds good for chicken processing workers as well.  Why not have them come out of the shadows?  They are eager for the work, and their results benefit all of us at the market. 

NYT Article – Real Estate’s Latest Bid: Zillow Wants to Buy Your House

Posted by leetabas

In recent years, there has been much focus on house flipping.  The latest is that Zillow is going to buy houses that they think are underpriced and resell them. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/07/business/economy/ibuying-real-estate.html

I could see big entities coming in a recession and scooping up property wholesale, but I can’t see that they have any advantage here. They won’t be able to do the work less expensively than someone working themselves.  It probably will make bidding for properties more competitive.

Coming in at the end of the economic cycle is probably not the smartest idea either.

The future will prove me right or wrong.  What is your thinking?