Backyard Maple Syrup

Fancy equipment not required.
Backyard maple sugaring is a simple family adventure.
Learning by trial and error in 2010

Blue bags and silver buckets will be hung from maple trees from here to Vermont in a week or so. Where I grew up sugaring is a serious business to some folks and a serious hobby for many families. I didn’t pay too much attention to the process, just the product, as a little kid. About 9 years ago a grove of maple trees reminded me of a spring family fun activity and I began experimenting.

This is a hobby which requires no fancy gear, although there is plenty for sale. Take my word for it, your basement and garage probably have all the equipment you’ll need to make your first pint of maple syrup. I like to MacGyver solutions, and as you can see from the photo my first effort was hardly efficient, but the syrup was spectacular. With a grove of trees available, I grew my little operation into a 20 quart production operation complete with old gear I acquired from a sugar shack outside of Antigo. All of that gear is now in the hands of a friend in Columbus who has taken the hobby to new heights.

Groves aren’t required for back yard sugaring. One big fat maple tree is enough. The first spring after I moved into Crestwood I tapped a few trees behind my house and a new spring event was born. Neighbors drawn by the buckets, the fire, and the sweet smell of boiling sap soon were grilling hot dogs, toting buckets of sap, and tending a hot fire in the backyard. Six years later two of my neighbors have their own spring sugaring operations making a variety of smokey and non-smokey brands which we trade and use in cooking, pancakes, and over ice cream.

The weather needs to cooperate before the trees get busy. The first string of cold nights and warm days in March will start the flow. The forecast is cold for the next week, I’m not seeing the warm days we need, so expect this to be a shorter season from mid March to early April.

There are plenty of DIY videos on YouTube, but keep in mind, elaborate evaporation systems are not required. Long time sugar operations in WI have moved to tubes and plastic taps. It’s easy to get inexpensive taps and buckets by checking on-line.

I hope to tap a few trees next weekend. Depending on the flow, we could be evaporating by the next weekend. Let me know if you’d like some non-professional help to start your own Sticky Fingers Maple Syrup Company.


Who decides who gets paid…the myth of the two commissions.

The listing contract is an agreement between a real estate firm and a seller of real estate. Among other terms, the compensation is stated in a listing contract; dollar amount or a percentage of the sale price are two options.

Whether or not the listing firm is obligated to compensate another REALTOR member of the MLS is determined by a separate contract which does not involve the seller. This other contract is between the participating firms. By this contract we members agree cooperation is required, and compensation is earned. There are standards to be met for a cooperating firm to earn the listing firms Offer of Compensation.

Real estate buyers who are aware of contractual obligations are not fooled into thinking they can get a 3.0% discount by excluding a REALTOR. We can’t blame the consumer for not knowing. We can blame the people who give the consumer poor direction and encouragement. Buyers who think they can dictate the commission the broker is paid put themselves at a serious disadvantage in negotiations in the price they offer and in the way they are perceived by the Seller.

Understand this and you’ll likely out negotiate at least one other buyer in your next attempt to buy a house. There is one commission in a real estate transaction. It’s the commission paid by the seller to the listing firm. Whether the firm owes any of that commission to another firm is decided by the terms of the contract between broker firms. A person is free to hold any belief that they prefer at their own peril.

Everyday somewhere a buyer is going alone or with an attorney to negotiate an offer through the listing firm expecting a discount of 50% of the commission is available for the taking. “My offer is 3.0% less than what it would be if I had an agent. You’re still getting the same amount.” When confronted with this buyer opinion, agents have no obligation to explain how contracts work. They are well within their right to take the Offer and present it to the Seller, showing the seller the price, concessions, costs, and net. The listing firm does not have to concede any percent of the commission regardless of what the buyer wrote in their Offer. The agreement between listing firm and seller determines the fees.

Engaging in a conversation with a customer regarding broker fees dictated by a contract the buyer is not part of is unnecessary and probably futile. Proceed knowing the contracts, not the buyer determine compensation and who earns what. Anything else is a myth.

This is our business, not our opinion.

From the outside looking in anything might look easy and possible. From the inside looking out, we’re looking at opinions based on no evidence or the wrong evidence. Allowing the outside to influence our actions based on opinions unsupported by proof, at the expense of staying with what you do that you know works, is a choice. Choose to believe what you’ve proven and consider the opinions. But don’t concede to pressure to appease.

One real estate firm in the Madison area sells more million dollar lake homes than any other firm in the market. It’s not even close. This is a fact supported by evidence. Indisputable evidence. The firm has a plan. They have a style, and a method. They have trust in their plan. They got to their plan by learning what works today and implementing those strategies. They do not bend to the whims of opinions. They don’t concede to pressure to abandon their plan to implement proven ineffective strategies or to try what they have not proven effective. Good ideas abound. Results of plans are evidence that the idea is effective or not.

The lake home expert real estate company’s plan works. Other ideas might. When you already made the smart choice to work with the proven effective firm, why is it still tempting to direct the show? Patience.

Who’s It For?

Great ideas have little chance of making it through the gauntlet of opinion. Succumbing to rejection by friends, family, peers, staff is why we walk away from ideas which we eventually see implemented successfully by someone other than ourselves. You can you get your out-of-the-box thinking idea to market by doing one thing consistently: don’t seek opinions from people who your idea is not for.

All ideas are not going to deliver results we desire. But no idea has a chance when it’s scuttled on the launch pad or in development. The test of whether an idea is worth implementing is to implement it. Expose the idea to the people it’s designed to speak to and you’ll get the only feedback that matters. Be willing to learn something from the results of launching.

If it’s that easy, why do we seek the approval of people who the idea is not for before we are confident enough to launch the idea to people it’s designed for? Are we derailed by the people we trust when they are unimpressed? Are we sidetracked because we are embarrassed when our idea falls flat with people who the message is not for? When you’ve done the work you’ve considered more of what will never cross the minds of people who have not gone where you’ve been. The need for affirmation is debilitating. Self doubt is a killer.

It’s easy to ask people we know to comment on our idea. From the perspective of the person who’s asked to comment, the consequences of approving something that ends in utter failure are great. The safe route is to encourage the person to stay within the norms. Very few people are willing to go where you’re going. That’s probably a good indicator that your idea has a chance. Launch something moderately of interest to the masses and you’ll get encouragement. Launch something that may be massively accepted by a narrow market, and the chances are the people who give their opinion will not get it. They won’t see what the narrow market sees because they are not in the narrow market. Your message is for some people. But it’s not for them.

Your idea has never been tried. Oh sure, something like your idea may have been tried, but it’s not the same. No other idea that is anything like your idea has ever had you involved. Great ideas have come to market before the market was ready. That doesn’t diminish the greatness of the idea. Press on.

Allowing some other people to influence your commitment or cause you self doubt is up to you. Consider this response: “Thank you. Your opinion matters to me. I appreciate your perspective.” And then tell yourself, “This isn’t for them.”

Standards of Practice and Procuring Cause Deviation. Why not just follow the rules?

Contracts drive the real estate business. We know the obvious contracts as a Buyer Agent Contract, Listing Contract. These are contracts between consumers and real estate firms. Without a contract it’ll be uncertain who’s paying who, when, how much, and for doing what. With a contract we have the rules of engagement and the boundaries of the playing field. Any question about who, what, when, and where can be answered by reading the contract. Baseball and football are good analogies for contracts. By rules we can see what is in-bounds, fair, foul, illegal. Rewards (runs, points) are earned by complying with the rules.

Order is kept in sports by playing by the rules. There are times when we wish the rules could be suspended to favor our position. Earning 6 points by crossing the 20 yard line instead of the goal line would be better if it only applied to me. A fly ball to the warning track could be a home run, but it’s not. Why don’t we allow it sometimes, especially when the other side asks nicely, or demands the exception?

The contract real estate firms have with each other to cooperate and compensate is good for the consumer and the industry. Keeping order and a fair playing field begins with clear rules. But only compliance with those rules enhances civility. One idea that is not a rule of engagement in contracts is the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule sounds like a higher standard. It is not. It’s a weapon to manipulate a decision in favor of the person who wants to change the rules to permit them fluctuate rules to their benefit. “Treat other people as you want to be treated” is not intended to be used by me to manipulate you into doing what I want for myself. It’s not intended to be a statement. It’s a thought to be applied to myself, not you.

Over and over one member or our association demands another member follow the golden rule and award them for doing less than or nothing close to crossing the goal line. It’s not even a request. Just a self righteous expectation. “Rules are fine but let me decide the rules. I’ll do that based on what’s good for me. ” My question is this: Why are Professional Standards not sufficient to determine right from wrong? Why do we need a subjective concept of a “golden rule” other than to hit the other guy over the head to coerce him into seeing things our way? We don’t.

We could end commission disputes between firms today by agreeing to abide by the contracts. Never should a Realtor show up 7 weeks after a transaction begins and interject himself and hold the process hostage until deviation is agreed to. We can’t expect every member to know black from white. But we can expect leaders to know. Unless we can trust the Brokers to leave opinions at the door and help referee the parties into their own lanes, and not to a compromise, we have no order. Blurred lines are not a better alternative to boundaries. Pretending the line is blurred is unethical. There is no home field advantage in this business. You either have earned the Offer of Compensation by the rules of engagement, or not.

Brokers who think the two sides to every story are equal, and take a position of rolling the dice in arbitration may get what they want more often than not. That’s unfortunate. Self regulation is a lot easier when once side isn’t rewriting the rules to fit their golden desires. When we didn’t earn it, we don’t ask for compensation. And we certainly don’t demand it. Those are the rules. Let them work.

Learning v Training

How does one become a top real estate agent? Let me count the ways. One, two, three, Two Hundred and ninety eight million. In .71 seconds Google found 298,000,000 results pertaining to my question. In .47 seconds Google gave me 366,000,000 results for real estate training. Certainly there appears to be interest in. (1.86 million results for train me to be a top real estate agent.)

I just saw a social media post recognizing the top real estate agents in an established local firm. Of the 60 agents who achieved the recognition level nine began their careers since the Great Recession. They did it without training. They committed to learning, and did the work. Going from zero to multiple millions is the carrot real estate trainers dangle, and who wouldn’t want that? As long as it’s fast, and easy, there will always be a rush to pay the fee, to be trained to be a star. We won’t see 15% of them in the top performer list of their firms. Rather than a quick road to success, the training programs launch most of their customers on a short career.

That’s not the same for learners. Learners like the nine I mentioned are in a hurry to be effective. They are in a hurry to do things right. They want to learn. They don’t have an interest in being trained. What’s the difference? Training is remembering which boxes to check and which lines to fill in. Training is the passing along of memorized scripts. Learning is knowing how to interpret and explain contract terms. Learning is knowing why the contract has this or that provision and knowing implications of those provisions. Not just well enough to draft an Offer, but well enough to also explain the document in terms their client can comprehend.

Congratulations to you all. I remember you when you didn’t know anything. You learned well. Keep growing. Keep sharing what you learn. Enjoy your careers. You learned it.