A Week in the Life …

 

shutterstock_213699160We’re over the hump and summer is finally winding down.  Many of my readers know that May through September are the quite months of the year here in the Coachella Valley.  With temperatures soring into the 100s +, only the hardcore “heat lovers” chose to vacation in our brutal heat.  Locals tend to stay inside with their air conditioners blasting away.  We run from our air conditioned homes to our air conditioned cars to our air conditioned offices or restaurants or theaters; perhaps jump in the pool for just a few minutes and then head back to the air conditioner … if we’re lucky.  Many locals work outdoors with long sleeve shirts and hats to battle the sun’s burning rays, they drink gallons of water to keep hydrated and seek shade for frequent rest periods.  I marvel at how they cope with the constant heat.  Never the less, during the summer, life in the desert generally slows down and seasonal residents and visitors head for cooler areas.  With the reduced population and less customer traffic, many restaurants and some retail stores will close for a month, two or the entire summer.  Some businesses will reduce their hours … such as Vacation Rentals of the Desert.  During “off season” we drop to six hours a day, six days per week.  But don’t think we have time to dilly-dally … we’re diligently working on the upcoming rental season.  Despite the summer perks of buzzing around the desert in light traffic, immediate seating at our favorite restaurants, and room to swim in our community pools (despite the fact that the pool water is warm enough to be considered a spa), most year round working residents are busy in the summer months preparing for “season.”

Personally … I am grateful for the seasonal aspect of the desert’s tourism business.  The summer allows my company to regroup, take a deep breath and work on ways to improve and expand business.   It gives us the time to review properties and advise owners on ways to increase their property’s desirability.  It offers a “down time” for property owners to renovate, redecorate, repair, replace and prepare for their future guests without costing them the loss of potential business.  In some respects … summer is the busiest time of the year!

It is true that we do not have many vacationing guests during this time of year …. This August, a whopping total of eight, which by the way is twice what we had August 2013, but that does not mean that we were sitting in our air conditioned office twiddling our thumbs.  So here you go … a real taste of a busy vacation rental office during “off season” and an actually account of the past week at Vacation Rentals of the Desert.   A Week in the Life ….

We had two air conditioning problems.  At over 110 degrees, air conditioning issues are an emergency!  One was user error but still took a visit from the office, the other was a clogged filter that froze up the system and a service tech had to be called in to defrost the coils and replace the filter.  This A/C issue, yesterday, involved more than one dozen phone calls between the guests, the owner, our handyman, an on-call service tech and his answering service and our office.

We had a sink leak at o-dark-thirty which flooded out a guest’s kitchen and caused a great deal of anxiety to both the guest and the office employee who was awakened from a dead sleep.  This also took a great number of phone calls between the office employee, guest, owner, handyman, and gate guard at the country club entrance.  Problem solved with a new sink pipe and a lot of cleanup.

Guests this past weekend also called to report that the spa was not working.  Really!!  110 degrees after dark and they wanted the spa … I’m just saying!  They paid for the use of the spa … they are absolutely entitled.  Our handyman was sent out in the evening.  Parts were needed but stores were closed and it is too dark to deal with the electrical issues.  This involved many calls … one of which was a call to apologize to an unhappy guest and a promise for prompt service first thing in the morning.  $700 plus in repairs, we got the spa back up and running only to have a heater gasket burst and the pool-side patio flood.  The same guests were also unable to get the Wi-Fi running and of course “when it rains it pours,” the batteries went out on the garage door remote.  Thankfully the handyman was able to remedy all issues and the tenants departed happy … especially since we refunded some money for the spa issue.

We also had keys that did not work … an owner rekeyed without telling us.  A window that would not open, a garbage can the guest did not like, a garage fan that was not working, a garage door remotes that had to be quickly purchased and programmed to have ready for an arriving guest after owners replaced the opener unit and left with the one and only remote, a screen that had to be replaced, carpet cleaning, replaced burned out fluorescents, toilet leak, garbage disposal jam, a garbage disposal replacement, shower head replacement, hot water heater coupler repair, atrium screen replacement and a jammed lock box.  We also had to pick up mail twice at an unoccupied property for a traveling owner who was expecting an important package.  All of these took multiple conversations with owners and/or guests, creating work orders, scheduling and sometimes meeting handymen, contracting services and security gates for entrance passes.

We also have four properties in the midst of major remodeling or renovations that we monitored, took periodic photos and emailed to owners to keep them updated on progress.  I had to meet a window/blind treatment company to measure, take pictures and report back to owner with my personal recommendations, including estimates on three alternative choices, for a large three bedroom condo.  We also scheduled estimates for a new air conditioning/heating unit replacement as well as an awning cover replacement.  And we met with a contractor to inspect the outcome of a new Formica installation before approving final payment.

Trish and Kathy answered approximately sixty rental inquires via email, countless phone call inquiries, entered a number of new reservations, collected rental payments and signed rental agreements, answered numerous questions from guests arriving in the upcoming months, issued supplies and keys to cleaners, handymen and service techs, inspected properties, answered owner questions, and … and …. and ….

Kathy “opened” eight properties, getting them ready for arriving guests, and “closed” four, inspecting and securing them after guest departures.  She visited The Lock Shop at least three times to make duplicate keys, tagged them and checked to make sure they worked on the doors.

I spoke on the phone and then met three prospective owner clients.  This took hours in phone conversations, emails and visits, but was time well spent since we signed up all three properties.  Then our office worked on building and listing the properties, creating guest books, making duplicate keys, taking pictures and/or scheduling photographers.  Finally Trish and Kathy were sent to personally view the properties so they could better describe the homes to prospective guests.

I spoke at length to two possible future clients who wanted opinions on best locations to purchase a vacation rental property and this week I spent literally hours of time on the phone with owners concerned with the new vacation rental ordinance in Rancho Mirage … and rightly so.  This is a subject I will expand on in the future.

I’m sure I am forgetting something … lots of somethings probably.  I’ll remember them immediately after posting this blog and I’m sure to hear about it on Tuesday when we return to the office after the Labor Day weekend.  But I think you now have a sense of the pace of a medium size vacation rental company.  To be successful we have to always be looking at “the big picture.”  We have to know what our competitors are doing, and do even better.  We have to know what is going on in the industry and utilize all the latest tools at our disposal.  We have to work quickly and efficiently and address all guest concerns immediately.  Sometimes it seems that we are in two places at one time.  Yes… we are super human in that respect … we never make mistakes, we address issues before they become problems and we all have memories like elephants!  That is how I hope our clients see us.  LOL … let’s just say, Vacation Rentals of the Desert is blessed to have employees that love their jobs, love the clients, take pride in their work and always strive to do their very best.

If you do not know them already … please let me introduce our cast of characters … Kathy is our “go to” for running around the properties, getting them ready and running office errands … she is the Energizer Bunny.  Trish is our “stay at home” gal who staffs the office when everyone else is running and hers is the welcoming smile that greets everyone when they walk through our office door.  Joaquin is our “money dad” and deals with everything accounting as well as licensing and permitting, insurance issues, legal matters and computer technical support.  David is our “social media expert” and handles all of our Facebook posts and advertising, posts all pictures, keywords and engine search data to our website.  He is also the fellow who introduces our blog on Facebook every Sunday.  Alex is our “jack of all trades” handyman.  If he cannot fix it … he has a relative who specializes in it … with crazy low service rates and unbelievable savings to our clients.  And of course we cannot forget Lesley, owner of Crown Concierge who embodies the meaning of  “super women.”  Lesley deals with the dirty job of cleaning.  She coordinates and schedules all cleaning which is no small job.  Come February 1st and March 1st when we’ll have somewhere between forty and sixty departures at 10 a.m. and only five hours to have the properties cleaned for the forty to sixty 3 p.m. arrivals, Lesley seems to conjure up cleaners from thin air to complete the task, with a “sparkling clean guarantee” to boot.  We all scratch our heads at how she accomplishes this, year after year without fail and seemingly, with ease … but we count our blessings that she there takin’ care of business!  And then there’s me, Vickie … the one that writes this blog … and a few other things when needed.

Because of our amazing staff, our wonderful and caring property owners and excellent guests, our busy “off season” and even busier “season” are challenging, never boring and beyond rewarding.  Don’t think for one minute that we are twiddling our thumbs over the summer months … just because we don’t have a full house doesn’t mean our house is not full.

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Is Your Vacation Home Emergency Ready?

 

BvzDRp7CEAEP3D0This morning Napa, California was “a rockin’ and a rollin’!”   Many northern Californians were abruptly awakened by a 6.0 earthquake at 3:20 a.m. Sunday morning.  California Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency.

This is the height of rental season in the Napa Valley and surrounding areas.  Just think of all the vacationing guests who may have experienced their first earthquake in the wee, dark hours this morning.  I found the kitchen photo in a “Tweet” about today’s earthquake.  I wonder how the rest of this home fared and how the occupants are holding up?  Whether this is their first earthquake experience or not, I am certain they are pretty shaken.  What a mess to have to deal with … and what if this was a vacation rental property?  How would a guest deal with the power outage, in the dark, as they are stumbling through a “broken” home?  Who would deal with the clean-up and security of the vacation property?  The guests?  I doubt it.  Most likely … they’d hit the road before the sun came up!

There are no real ways to fully prepare for unforeseen emergencies.  Earthquakes, severe storms, tornados and power outages often arrive unexpectedly.  However, Vacation Rentals of the Desert recommends a few supplies that will be helpful and appreciated by your guests in the event of an emergency:  A flashlight in each nightstand, a flashlight in a kitchen “junk” drawer along with replacement batteries, a fire extinguisher, emergency candles, matches and perhaps a couple of gallon jugs of water in the pantry or garage.

Keep Safe my friends.

“Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.” ― Gen. George S. Patton

 

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HGTV … Thank You for Spreading the Word!

 

hertz_Garell_Outside_lgBoy do I have the PERFECT Sunday afternoon planned out for you!  I have mentioned many times over the past several months that vacation rentals have grown in exposure and popularity in recent years.  Much of the national exposure has been due to HGTV.  I am a huge fan of “House and Garden TV” and enjoy most of their programs.  House Hunters, House Hunters International, House Hunters on Vacation, Love It or List It, Property Brothers … all have provided great decorating tips which I have used in sprucing up and staging many of the properties I manage at Vacation Rentals of the Desert.

I not only recommend HGTV programs to vacation rental owners, but I believe any home owner will benefit from their decorating, renovation and maintenance tips … besides they are just down-right fun to watch!  If you are “toying” with the idea of purchasing a vacation rental home or listing your second home as a vacation rental property, then the below videos are a MUST SEE!  These short videos give great insight into the value of a vacation rental and its potential income, what guests are looking for in a rental home and some really great advice on amenities.  They allow us to step into the shoes of vacation rental owners as well as vacationing guests.

Once you’re on the HGTV website take a look around … there is so much of interest.  I know … I just spent most of the morning jumping from video to video! 

Now … grab your iced tea, a bowl of popcorn and get ready for some fun!

 

This year-round rental house in LA was converted to a successful vacation rental property.

http://www.hgtv.com/video/converting-to-vacation-rental-video/index.html

 

In this short clip the host compares three vacation rental homes in Key West, Florida and tells viewers which will be more successful and why.

http://www.hgtv.com/video/key-west-vacation-rentals-video/index.html

 

This is a cool new show … Vacation House for Free.  Watch short clips on purchasing a vacation rental home that will carry itself.  Note:  There are several clips back to back with short commercials between.  Keep the video player running.

http://www.hgtv.com/vacation-house-for-free/show/index.html

 

One of my favorite shows … House Hunters On Vacation!  Watch short clips or full episodes.  The HGTV host shows lucky guests three vacation homes and treats them  to a one week vacation at the home of their choice.  Step into the shoes of three separate families as they choose a vacation home in Maui, St. Thomas and the California Wine Country;  join two couples as they choose a perfect vacation home in Sante Fe and a very lucky couple from California that decide on a dream honeymoon location in London.  Note:  The video that comes up will feature Maui.  You will need to click on the individual episodes listed below the video screen to view all of the short clips.  You also have the option to choose the entire episode.

http://www.hgtv.com/house-hunters-on-vacation/show/index.html

 

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How Vacation Rentals are Improving our Economy

 

WELLS FARGO AND BROTHERS REDEVELOPMENT HELP TWO ELDERLY SISTERS PAINT AND REPAIR THE HOME THEY HAVE LIVED IN FOR 54 YEARS.Over the past several years vacation rentals have contributed significantly in the recovery of our housing market.  When the housing bubble popped in 2008 the nation watched as their home values plummeted, yet the vacation rental industry grew.  Why?  The way I look at it, it was a perfect storm …..

In the summer of 2008 Vacation Rentals of the Desert was booked solid for the height of the upcoming season … February and March 2009, and we were looking for more properties to sign on and accommodate our growing tenant waiting list.  Then the storm hit …. the housing bubble popped, the stock market took a nose-drive and the very heated presidential campaigns were being fought … the sky was falling and we were all going to hell in a hand-basket or at least that is what the media would have us believe.  That fall, through October and November, about 75% of our tenants called to cancel their reservation.

After the dust settled, the stock market steadied, President Obama was sworn into office and everyone realized that life would go on and winters would continue to be cold in the northern states and Canada … our tenants called back to reinstate their reservations.  But … what was surprising (and should not have been unexpected) is that we started receiving calls from owners interested in listing their second homes.  Most of these owners had never intended to rent their family vacation home, but due to the economy they were struggling and looking for options.  For most, selling was impossible.  For many owners the property was upside down or for those who did have equity in their vacation home, the challenge was to find buyers in the sluggish sales market and for those who did find buyers, losing them due to buyers finding that bank loans were unattainable.

There were other options to these struggling home owners such as long term rentals.  But here again there were many challenges such as removing personal belongings and striping the property of all furnishings.  And as real estate sales were down, so were long term rentals.  Monthly rental rates plummeted and it was difficult to find tenants who could pass a credit check.  The reality was that many of the families looking for long term rentals had lost their own homes in the recession.   Other options … foreclosure or short sale.  For most … the vacation rental option was the wisest financial solution.

So … we, as many other vacation management companies, added properties to our rental program.  Some home owners decided to manage their vacation homes by listing them on VRBO or HomeAway.  There were few options back then, VRBO being the largest of the internet based rent by owner (RBO) sites.  This is the time when VRBO really took off and grew, as did other vacation management companies.

As the vacation rental industry grew, the media took notice and vacation rentals were exposed more broadly to the public.  As public awareness grew do did the demand.  Now renters were coming in greater numbers, for longer stays and a wider range of dates.  And over the past several years I have noticed a great increase of local properties purchased expressly to be used as a vacation rental.  Some may call these new owners “investors” and may view “investment” as a singular selfish and money making scheme, but it is not that simple and one must look at the bigger picture.

This may be the best time to purchase a family vacation home or future retirement home … even better if you purchased it two or three years ago … then you property got a significant deal.   Good for you!  In our area, with our short “rental season,” it is almost impossible to generate more money than would just “offset” your carry costs.   The following are perfect examples:

Scenario #1) While visiting the desert (maybe for the first time or tenth time), Mr. and Mrs. Smith walk into a neighboring open house.  They tell the real estate agent they are “just looking” but explain that they have been visiting the desert for X years and would love to own a property but do see that it financially viable.  So … the agent explains how they can purchase a second home and offset cost by doing vacation rentals.  They can save the two months of rental fees they are paying, apply it to the house payments and further offset cost with seasonal rental income.

Scenario #2)  Same as above only Mr. and Mrs. Jones wish to retire in the desert one day.  The real estate agent highlights the same above advantages but also points out that property values are going up and they may save a significant amount of money by getting their foot in the door now while housing prices and interest rates are still low.

Scenario #3) Mr. Green has money he would like to invest.  He chose to purchase a vacation home instead of investing in the stock market.  He may like the idea that he and his family can also enjoy the vacation home when it’s not rented … a more tangible investment than the stock market.

Senior #4) Mr. and Mrs. Johnson have a little money to invest, a bit of free time and are looking for a project.  They find a bank foreclosed home, short sale or beat up property that they can purchase at a steal.  They throw some money into it, some back-breaking TLC, and come out at the other end with a gorgeous vacation rental home that will generate a little income throughout the year and continue to increase in value as the real estate market grows.

I am certain there are many more reasons vacation homes are being purchased but these four examples are the ones I see over and over.  This year I have lost five repeat vacation rental tenants that fall under the first two scenarios.  Some putting the vacation home into our management program, others have privately listed their property on line.  I have picked up four properties that fall under scenario #3, and I am working with several owners in scenario #4.

This is how vacation rentals have helped improve our local housing market and economy.  Other than possibly scenario #4 … these buyers were previously vacation renters and visitors and lived outside our community … they came, they fell in love with the area … and then they purchased.   Sometimes our city officials and year round residents do not see this bigger picture … but as the older literally die out … the above four categories  represent the growing demographic of new buyers.   This has caused some controversy in our desert cities … it has actually caused controversy world-wide in resort communities and heavily populated vacation rental areas.  This is the world we live in now.  It is the result of the perfect storm.  It is the ingenuity and resourcefulness of individuals that has grown the vacation rental industry, contributed toward growing the economy and housing market and even increased property values in many areas.

Let’s look at this last statement … “increased property values.”  I have seen this throughout our area in HUGE numbers.  I am talking about those three or four properties that you see in almost every neighborhood.  The ones that look like they should be torn down.  The landscape and exterior are in a deplorable state.  During your evening walk, you don’t even allow your dog to venture into the yard.  The house windows may be broken or boarded up, the wood fence is leaning and you are almost certain that someone or something is living inside.  You know what these homes have done to your property values!

So Mr. and Mrs. Johnson purchase this home and over the next few months you notice the transformation from eye-sore to shiny new beauty and all the homes in the neighborhood enjoy a boost to their property value.  I have seen this over and over and over and over.  Some of these same property owners who are enjoying the enhancement of their neighborhoods and the increase in their property values are the same people that are standing up against vacation rental properties and so called party houses.  What a shame!  I’m not ready to get on my soap box, but I will say that it seems these days that neighbors have found it easier to throw their neighbor under the bus rather than address the issue straight on.  What a crying shame to have to throw out the barrel of apples instead of picking out the bad ones.  If asked, would you want to go back to the abandoned, foreclosed eye-sore of a property next door?  Doesn’t it make sense to try to figure out a solution rather than pushing these people out and going back to the previous status quo?

So … without actual local statistics and survey numbers, I still feel comfortable in saying that vacation rentals have helped to grow our local economy in the following ways:

1)      Increased sales in the housing market

2)      Improved property values

3)      Continue the “circle of life” by bringing in new residents and property owners

4)      Contributed valuable TOT (transient occupancy tax) to cities

5)      Heavily contribute towards the tourism industry

6)      Supported local business and contractors with home improvements, furnishings

7)      Support maintenance companies such as pool, gardening and cleaning services

8)      Helped cities in marketing the desert to tourists, business and home buyers

9)      Bring in city sales tax from retail, dining and entertainment

I will close with these words … every resident is entitled to “quite enjoyment” of their home.  I would hope that all vacation rental owners be very aware of the type of neighborhood their vacation home is located in (condominium, private home, estate, etc.), and the “tone” of your neighbors (hot-spot for vacation rental complaints, tolerant party spot, etc.), and rent to the demographic that will fit best within your neighborhood.  Look at the “big picture” keeping in mind that a “party” could cause irreparable relations with your neighbors and/or possible restrictions through city ordinance.  Don’t be that bad apple … if you are, not only are your neighbors upset with your “business,” but your fellow vacation rental owners are as anxious to pick you out of the apple barrel and throw you away.  After all … they are trying to be good neighbors and following the rules.

If you are a vacation rental tenant please take note that vacation rental home owners are dealing with city and community issues throughout the world.  If you are planning a party or feel that you may get loud or rowdy … please make sure you talk frankly to the property owner or management company.  Many cities have ordinances that could cause you to be removed from the property if confronted with a city ordinance violation.  There are some properties that may be better for your enjoyment and peace of mind during your stay.  I am certain that no one wants a visit from police, ordinance compliance, the owner or manager during their vacation.  It is a very good idea that you ask whether there is a vacation rental ordinance in the city that you will be visiting and either request a copy of the ordinance or visit the city page to see what limitations there may be as far as age restrictions, occupancy and noise/music restrictions.  Be informed now so you won’t be disappointed later.  And please, please be a good neighbor … act as you would want the vacation rental tenants next to your house, your bedroom window on a Sunday night when you have to get up at 6 a.m. Monday morning to get ready for work … to behave.

Now I will step onto my soap box and say one last thing … perhaps we can rebuild and revitalize our communities … together!

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New Rancho Mirage Vacation Rental Ordinance

RM ConflictThis week the city of Rancho Mirage approved and passed a new, stricter vacation rental ordinance.  I am still trying to digest the changes and work on the implementation and enforcement of the new restrictions within my business.  Today I am not ready to step up on my soapbox … publically.  I am still collecting information and trying to look at the bigger picture and potential ramifications we could suffer if I were to overreact.  Since I have over one hundred Rancho Mirage vacation rental owners that I work with, and many of these owners have contacted me to ask what our input to the city was, I have decided to posted the argument I made this past Thursday, July 31st at the city council meeting.  I was joined by several property owners and residents who manage their own vacation rental properties in the city of Rancho Mirage.  Our voices were listened to but unfortunately not heard.  If you are interested in viewing the entire city council meeting, below I have attached the link to the city website and July 31st city council meeting.  The entire meeting is almost four hours in length.  To skip to the reading of the proposed vacation rental ordinance and the arguments made by residents and owners you can fast forward one hour and 05 minutes … 1.05 on the viewer bar at the bottom of the video.  The new ordinance goes into effect August 30, 2014.

Rancho Mirage City Council Meeting, July 31, 2014

Click on the following link and scroll down to the video.

http://www.ranchomirageca.gov/city-council/city-council-agendas-minutes-video/

 

Desert Sun article “Rancho Mirage vacation rental age restriction set at 30” published August 1, 2014

http://www.desertsun.com/story/news/local/2014/07/31/rancho-mirage-vacation-rental-age/13438899/

 

Following is the argument I presented at the city council meeting.

My name is Vickie Murguia and I’m the owner of Vacation Rentals of the Desert.  I manage approximately 100 vacation rental properties in the City of Rancho Mirage.  I am here to represent those property owners who cannot attend city council meetings to make their arguments in favor of vacation rentals.  There seems to be just a handful of residents that have made repeated complaints against vacation rentals.  I am here to represent the silent majority.  This includes the 100 home owners that I work with and all their renters that visit the desert and are excellent neighbors.  The silent majority also includes all the businesses that benefit from these owners and renters such as contractors and remodeling companies that new buyers hire to update and turn around vacant and neglected properties, the cleaners, the repair services and various vendors that support vacation rentals.  This also includes real estate agents that are seeking out investors and using the idea of vacation rental potential in their sales pitch.  These agents cannot voice their opinions because they work with people that are on both sides of the issue.  There are also the restaurants, theaters, stores, golf courses and all the activities where travelers spend their money in Rancho Mirage.  Just imagine the silent majority were here today … they would overflow this room.  Our desert is in the resort business.  Most of us were not born and raised in the desert.  We visited, fell in love with the desert and eventually moved here.

I do not agree with the proposed changes to the ordinance regarding minimum age and outdoor sounds.  I believe they have the potential to chase away visitors, property buyers and ultimately much needed revenue to the city of Rancho Mirage.  After all, revenues from TOT were the reason for the ordinance in the first place.  Chasing away short term rentals will lose Rancho Mirage hundreds of thousands in TOT as well as sales tax.

In the 3 years since activating the Hot Line … I have only received 3 calls from all cities combined.  My company receives a weekly report from the city of Palm Springs on Hot Line calls.  I propose that the city of Rancho Mirage also share this information with managers and owners.  This way we can better monitor any violations and identify residents that repeatedly call the Hot Line.  I believe the current ordinance is sufficient but could be better enforced by owners and vacation rental managers and that stricter laws are over-reaching and are just going to be more difficult to enforce and will chase away the visitors that are the life blood of our community and does not address the underlying issues which could probably be address by managers or owners screening their renters and educating their tenants on the current rules and regulations and informing them of the ramifications of non-compliance.

Whatever is decided, Vacation Rentals of the Desert will always keep in full compliance with the law and will continue to strive to be good neighbors.

NOTE:  This is a hot topic.  Anyone care to discuss?

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