Archive for July, 2009

Your Credit Score…A Valuable Asset…Protect It! (Part Two)

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

   Purchasing real esate is one of the prirmary reasons the consumer should make sure the credit score does not contain errors.   A difference of 1 % between a 5.5% loan and a 6.5% loan is $128.56 a month.  At 5.5%, payments principal and interest are $1135.57 and and 6.5%, $1264.13 a month,   Over a 30 year loan, this totals $46,283…that is a lot of money!

    When information on a credit report is inaccurate, it should be corrected by the consumer as soon as possible.  The consumer can correct and request deletion of information. The Federal Trade Commission has a web page devoted to credit report including a brief online video.   According to the FTC, check the credit report annually

   “Because the information in your credit report is used to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, and renting a home, you should be sure the information is accurate and up-to-date.  In addition, monitoring your credit is one of the best ways to spot identity theft.  Check your credit report at least once a year to correct errors and detect unauthorized activity.” 
   The site provides information on what to do, how to request information. and  how to dispute and correct the credit report mistakes.   This should be done by the consumer, turning the problem over to a credit counseling agency costs money and may not rectify the inaccuracies. 
   Writing letters to each of the credit agencies detailing the inaccuracies and requesting an investigation into the problem is preferable.  The consumer should include name, address, social security number, spouse’s name, previous addresses for the last five years, and phone number and request a corrected copy of the credit report.
   According to Patrick Ritchie, “42% of the credit problems are medically related”.   Many people put medical costs onto credit cards or are reported as delinquent by medical professinals including hospitals because of disputes between medical providers and insurance companies.  The consumer may believe bills have been paid, but the insurance company has not anted up and the debt is outstanding.  Even when the debt is paid, the provider often does not contact the credit reporting agencies to correct the inaccurate report.
   Parents often co sign for their children. The purpose of co signing should be a red flag; this person cannot get the credit requested on his/her own.   Real Estate agents see this situation all to frequently when people wanting to purchase a property cannot do so because they have co signed for a friend or relative who did has not meet the debt obligation.  In many instances, the would be purchaser of a home had stellar credit which was decimated by the friend or relative defaulted and had no idea of the default until the credit report was pulled for loan information.
   Divorce can bring credit issues as well.  Each spouse should  insist his/her name is removed from all joint credit accounts and new cards established in each individual’s name.  Any joint debt should be resolved if possible, prior to the dissolution of the marriage.  Debt holders can go after either party, and people contemplating divorce are trying to build a new life which can be difficult with derogatories on credit reports.  Credit card companies are not bound by the terms and conditions of a divorce decree.
   Credit is a necessity of life in today’s world.  We need it to rent a car, sign up for cable, rent or buy a place to live.  Credit is also a convenience, it is the roadway to lower interest rates, and it should be managed carefully and protected like gold.             


The Federal Trade Commisison:

Patrick Ritchie

About credit cards and divorce:

Equifax Credit Information Services, Inc.

P O Box 740256      Atlanta, GA   30374 -0241     (800) 685-1111

Trans Union Corporation

P O Box 2000  Chester, PA  19022    (800) 916-8800

Experian   Http://

P O Box 2104   Allen, TX  75013   (888) 397-3742

Your Credit Score…A Valuable Asset…Protect It!

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

In this era of people tightening their belts, pulling back on many purchases, and the occassional missed payment, credit scores can be severely bruised.   A credit score can impact  many facets of life, from obtaining the job since many companies now look at credit scores as a component of evaluating risk, to getting the best rates for insurance policies.  

Naturally credit scores impact the amount you pay for credit;  the price of a interest on a mortgage, the price of interest on a car, or any loan at a financial insittution.   The best credit terms used to go to people with a score of 720 or better, but now lenders look at scores of 740.  

The law states that consumers are entitled to one free credit report which can be obtained from


There is no charge for this report.  This is not the advertized site seen and heard on television and radio and in print media which is not the government sanctioned web site.  According to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, approximately 70% of credit reports studied “contain errors of some kind” said Patrick Ritchie, author of The Credit Report Map.

Obtaining a credit report and keeping the credit report over a period of years to use as the basis of comparision is wise.  When disputing errors in the report, previous credit reports can be used as referral tools.  The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) and the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA) set procedure for consumers to dispute items on the credit report.

The three main credit scoring agencies are Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.   They take information from creditors regarding payment history of debt, balances, payments, high credit, as well as data from the public records.

Credit score components are 35% pyament history; 30% amount owed; 10% inquiries and new debt; 10% types of credit; and 15% length of history.  It is wise not to cancel a credit card, especially if it has been in use for a long period of time, since it will influence the length of history component. 

The three credit agencies give higher scores to people who keep credit card debt less than 50% of the maximum credit allowed, regardless of payment history.   It is better to have five credit cards with a $5,000 limit each carrying balances of $1,000 each (20% of the maximum allowable amount) than one card with a $10,000 limit carrying a balance of $5,000 (50% of the allowable maximum debt).   The amount owed is the same, but the scenario is viewed differently;  the assumption is made (accurately or inaccurately) that the person carrying the five cards manages debt better than the person carrying one card. 

It is also important to periodically use all credit cards, even if for a small $5.00 payment or for a monthly bill like Netflix or the gym.  This is construed as good money management.  If in a financial squeeze, at least make the minimum payment on every card, rather than trying to make a larger payment on one card at the expense of the others. 

Tomorrow:  More about Credit Scores

Resources:     –  Patrick Ritchie

Federal Credit Reporting Act:

The Credit Report –

Equifax   http;//



KUDOS to Tucson from AARP…

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

AARP has named Tucson the number one place to live for the “active adult” community, alias the “mature adult”  community.  Looking to a simple life, Tucson garnered top kudos over all other places in the nation.

And indeed, Tucson is a grand place to live.  I willingly traded months of  grey, drizzly weather…and shoveling snow for a couple of months of “dry heat”.   Early mornings are perfect for a meandering walk and after dusk lends itself to upbeat outdoor concerts.

Tucson has integrated culture which makes it a vibrant community, blending it’s history as a part of Sonora Mexico prior to the Gadsden Purchase, with that of Native American culture, and Chinese culture. The white man found Tucson  with the advent of the railroads and brought with them new ideas of architecture, lumber, and eastern accountrements.

Tucson is rimmed with mountain ranges; the Catalinas to the north-northeast, home of the nation’s southermost ski area; the Rincons to the east; the Santa Ritas to the south, and the newest mountain range, the Tucson Mountains, to the west.   The topography is different in all the areas, but all provide interesting and diverse hiking paths and birding areas, one of the criteria of the AARP study.

Combine that with exceptional cultural activities, it’s own Symphony, a myriad of live theaters, the Center for Creative Photography which houses the Ansel Adams collection, the Tucson Museum of Art, DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, and excellent small galleries, Tucson is making it’s name in the art and music world.  With one of the best Jazz Societies in the United States, a vibrant Blue Grass Society, Chamber Orchestras, Pops In the Park, citizens can toe tap to any rhythmn.

As someone enthusiastically once said to me, “the healthiest I’ve ever been is when I lived in Tucson”.  There are various sports activities, Senior Olympics, city owned tennis courts, golf courses galore, an assortment of classes offered by Parks and Rec, and classes in all types of activities ranging from Pilates to Weight Training to Salsa dancing at Pima Community College. 

Combined with the bragging rights of 360 days of sun, Tucson offers its inhabitants low cost activities, the beauty of the desert, affordable housing in comfortable communities, local produce at Farmer’s Markets, a plethora of volunteer activities, and excceptional medical facilities.  (Scan previous blogs for information about the St. Philip’s Farmer’s Market, and a series about hospitals in the Tucson area.)

AARP really nailed it correctly!  Tucson is the place to live!


Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau:

Tucson Chamber of Commerce:

H.R. 3044 … Call to Action…

Monday, July 27th, 2009

    U.S. Representative Travis Chiders from Mississippi has sponsored with 37 co sponsors House Bill  3044 which calls for an 18 month moratorium on  the Home Valuation Code of Conduct.   The bill, sucinctly states:


During the 18-month period beginning on the date of the enactment of this Act, the Home Valuation Code of Conduct announced by the Federal Housing Finance Agency on December 23, 2008, shall have no force or effect.

No one from Arizona has co sponsored the bill.   The bill effectively puts a moratorium on Andrew Cuomo’s call for Appraisal Management Companies (AMC) and allows time to develop rules and regulations governing the appraisal industry.

As well as lenders, Realtors, and Wall Street, the appraisal industry has also been cited as a cause of the economic melt down.  It is alleged that appraisers were given a “target price” to meet by lenders which over valued the property and contributed to “loan fraud”.   Ironically, many of the large Appraisal Management Companies are subsidiaries or sister companies of the large banks which are currently underwriting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans.  These are the types of loans governed by the Home Valuation Code of Conduct.

Tom Heath, in his blog post Saturday, takes the Federal Housing Finance Agency to task and its Director, James Lockhart, for knowing little about the Home Valuation Code of Conduct.  Heath is President elect of the Southern Arizona  Mortgage Lenders Assocation and was guest blogger at this site last week.  With his permission, I am reposting Heath’s comments.

Anyone concerned with real estate should take time to read this post and contact state representatives to support House Bill 3044 calling for the mortatorium on the Home Valuation Code of Conduct. 


Weekend Wanderings…”Public Enemies” and the Real Hotel Congress

Friday, July 24th, 2009

   Johnny Depp as John Dillinger and “Public Enemies” is a hot box office success.   At the beginning of the year,  the pols warned us of the vicissitudes of The Great Depression, revisited, the very event which made John Dillinger a darling amongst the populace   So although times are not similar, the mindset is right for a great gansta’ flick.

   “The Jackrabbit” took the rap for many bankers who allegedly embezzled funds from their institutions and who almost welcomed the shoot ’em up, hold ’em up robberies since  the  stickups covered the tracks of the crooked bankers.   Dillinger and his gang criss crossed the Illinois,  Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio areas eluding law enforcement  while “borrowing” fast cars, stealing ammunition, and stockpiling their dwindling supplies of cash with another job for loot.

     Needing to cool off and lay low, the men headed south.   Alan May and Marilyn Bardsley weave a great tale…   and clicking on the link is well worth the effort!   Let them tell the story.

    But Dallas Scott, the Front Desk Clerk at the Hotel Congress and a Certified Tucson Tourism Ambassador, explains there was a fire in the basement of the Hotel Congress in January 1934, which licked up the elevator shaft and to the third floor.    Dillinger had not arrived back in Tucson with Billie Frenchette, his all time love, but was due that afternoon.  

      Charles Makley and “Booby” Clark were guests at the Hotel Congress and had rooms on the third floor.  The men bribed the firemen to go into the room to get two bags, according to Scott.  One bag contained a number of weapons, and the other bag held $24,000.   Dillinger and Billie Frenchette arrived that afternoon.

     However, one of the firemen recognized either Makley or Clark and notified the Tucson’s finest the following day.   Tucson Police apprehended “The Jackrabbit” and his colleagues without a single shot being fired, something even J. Edgar Hoover’s g men could not accomplish!  According to Scott, Dillinger et al  were apprehended on 2nd Avenue.  The third floor of the hotel was never rebuilt because the German couple who owned the hotel did not have the money.

 Each year on January 21, the Hotel Congress holds Dillinger Days where there is an embellished re-enactment of the capture of the American idol gangster, complete with vintage cars, food and music of the 1930’s and where people dress as if they lived during that period.

     The Hotel Congress has not changed much since that time, said Scott.  It tries to keep the ambience of that era.  Located at 311 East Congress in downtown Tucson, the hotel is home to The Cup Restaurant and a hopping lounge which is attractive to University of Arizona college students.   

     One thing the Hotel Congress is not, and that is the red brick building showing in the movie, “Public
Enemies” which brought a contemptuous giggle from the Tucson theater crowd.  



John Dillinger and Tucson Arizona

Author of “John Dillinger”

From the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

AAR Requests Review of Issues Resulting for SB 1271 ‘s Passage…Anti Deficiency Legislation

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

The path taken by people trying to get out from under negative equity or mounting bills is littered once again with potential legal problems for Realtors, buyers, and sellers.  The passage of the Arizona Senate Bill 1271 emphasizes the need for people to seek legal counsel when contemplating a foreclosure or short sale.


The Arizona Association of Realtors  (AAR) requested that Governor Jan Brewer amend the call for a Special Session of the Legislature to review the issues resulting from the passage of Senate Bill 1271, otherwise known as the Anti Deficiency legislation.


This bill states that within 90 days of the sale of property under a trust deed, “an action may be maintained to recover a deficiency judgment against any person directly, indirectly, or contingently liable on the contract for which the trust deed was given as security…”


This does not apply to any property 2 ½ acres or less used as a one family or single two family dwelling by the trustor  for at least six months and for which has a certificate of occupancy was issued


The legislation continues that the deficiency judgment will be for an amount equal to the amount owned to the beneficiary as of the date of the sale, as determined by a court.  This can be for the difference in the fair market value, less the amount of liens owed, and includes any interest which may be incurred. 


The party seeking remediation must act within the 90 day period, and if no action is pursued, the proceeds of the sale are considered full payment of debt.


In the letter to Governor Brewer, Tom Farley, CEO and Cheif Lobbyist for the AAR,  points out this bill applies people with second homes, rental property, and family owned property.  Developers, Farley said, are not protected . The statute points to the “subtle difference” in the property “being utilized as a one or two family dwelling”  which is how the existing statute reads, rather than the amended version which specifies “the focus is on the trustor themselves utililizing the property instead of the property being utilized”.


Farley’s letter came as a result of researching case law and the consequences of this bill.  He substantiates the letter with case law from various jurisdictions.  Lenders receiving Troubled Asset Relief Funds (TARP) are authorized to seek deficiency judgments against property owners after foreclosure.  Deficiency judgments allow for the judgment creditor to garnish the wages of the judgment debtor, employ collection agencies, garnish non earnings such as bank deposits, take non-exempt property and sell it at a public auction to satisfy the debt, and place a judgment lien on real property owned or later acquired by the judgment debtor.


The legislation came as a result of lobbying from the Arizona Bankers Association.  Arizona is one of the highest foreclosure/short sale states and Arizona bankers would like to recover some portion of the millions of dollars lost.  The bill, as of this writing, is scheduled to go into effect September 30, 2009.  Unless rewritten in the special session, the courts may be filled with lenders seeking deficiency judgments against former homeowners, which will create another series of problems including a rush to file for Bankruptcy on the part of judgment debtor.



Text of SB 1271:


Arizona Association Realtors: 


Other Blogs about SB 1271:








The Home Valuation Code of Conduct…Another Perspetive by Tom Heath

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

    The Home Valuation Code of Conduct and how it impacts Tucson real estate is also a concern of Tom Health, Vice President of Advocacy for the Southern Arizona Mortgage Lenders Association, Legislative Chair for the Arizona Mortgage Lenders Assocation and Director of the Arizona Association of Mortgage Brokers.   Tom is guest blogger today and what follows are his comments about the HVCC.

Thanks for taking the time to shed more light on the Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC).  You touched upon several issues that are critical in understanding why we have to recall this policy and put in place a more meaningful method of ensuring quality appraisals.

You mention this is a “de facto regulation,” which is the perfect description.  HVCC was not implemented by an agency as a regulation, or by Congress as legislation; it was an agreement between one man and two, at the time, privately held companies.  The policy of HVCC circumvented standard public commenting periods and debate that would have been required if this were an actual regulation or law.  The Attorney General of New York, Andrew Cuomo, threatened Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with massive lawsuits if they did not comply with this code.  The weak companies feared “tobacco type” lawsuits across the country and succumbed to the AG’s demands.

The foundation for this agreement was an investigation launched by the AG into alleged appraisal fraud resulting in values that were unrealistic, but led to huge earnings for a large national lender and their partially owned subsidiary appraisal management company (AMC).  Whether the attorney general had a foundation for his threats is not known, because as part of the agreement was to keep the results of the investigation undisclosed.

Due to the implementation of the HVCC, most lenders now work with an AMC, which is an unregulated entity and is often owned, in part or in totality, by the bank for which it performs appraisals.  Ironically, Cuomo’s code has led to the dominance of the very structure that prompted the investigation that led to the code.

What was intended to protect consumers from unscrupulous originators and appraisers has created a more expensive process for the borrower and created a lower quality and less reliable product.  You accurately point out that the cost of a report has increased, but the compensation to an appraiser has decreased.  Quality appraisers are unable to work for the reduced income and therefore, orders go to less experienced practitioners.  Many times, the appraiser is brought in from areas outside of the market and is unfamiliar with trends and characteristics of the property being inspected.

While many are focusing on the inaccurate values being returned, the emphasis should be placed on the poor methodology of those reports rather than the value itself.  Anecdotal evidence is pouring in that, appraisers are brought in from areas outside of the market and are unfamiliar with trends and characteristics of the property being inspected.  Two reports were forwarded to me from a listing agent representing a property in a historic part of Tucson.  The first report was well below the agreed upon sales price and used comps that were not representative of the property’s historical characteristics.  The sale fell through.  Seller reduced price, a new buyer was found, a new lender was used, and a new appraisal was performed.  This report used comps more akin to the property being inspected and value came in 10% above ORIGINAL sales price.

In addition to cost and quality, the code has presented a “portability” issue.  Consumers typically pay for the appraisal at or prior to time of inspection.  While the code allows the report to be transferred to another lender if the borrower so wishes and the appraisal is HVCC compliant, the reality is much different.  One large national lender has a written policy that it will only accept reports completed by its wholly owned, subsidiary AMC.  Any borrower wishing to switch to this lender would likely have to have to bear the cost of another appraisal.  This same lender also stipulates that it will only release its reports to other lenders if the borrower is declined or counter offered on the terms of the loan they requested.  In other words, if that lender wants the loan, they will not release the report even though the consumer has paid for it.

The only vocal supporter of HVCC is a professional group, Title/Appraiser Vendor Management Association (TAVMA), whose members are large AMC’s.  The Appraisal Institute has supported the HVCC mission of appraiser independence, but has asked for changes.  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are noticeably silent on the code.

There is, however, loud opposition to the bill from the National Association of Realtors, the National Association of Home Builders, the National Association of Mortgage Brokers, and many independent appraisers.

The prevention of appraisal fraud and coercion has to be eliminated, but HVCC is a poorly planned and improper tool for the job.  Congress has introduced HR 3044 that would place an 18-month moratorium on HVCC and allow regulators to create a workable solution that takes the good intentions of HVCC and melds them with practical procedures that can strengthen the industry and protect consumers.


Tom is with Consolidated Lenders, The Heath Team  

 House Bill 3044:











Tucson Real Estate and the Home Valuation Code of Conduct

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

   Tucson real estate sales, although improving, now is also adversely impacted by the Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC), a de facto regulation promulgated by Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General of the state of New York in conjunction with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.  Loans which are not Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loans are not governed by the HVCC.

   The intent originally was to insure appraisals are done in accordance with independent safeguards, that appraisers were not coerced to hit a value specified by the lender or loan officer.  The HVCC lays out ten areas of concern Cuomo had regarding lenders and appraisers.  But rather than independent appraisers, Appraisal Management Companies (AMC) have surfaced and are a profit center for large banks which underwrite many of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans.  Appraisals must be ordered and “The Code requires the lender or any third party specifically authorized by the lender to select, retain, and provide for all compensation to the appraiser”1

   As a result, many independent appraisers and small appraisal companies can not longer afford to remain in business unless they join one of the AMC pools.   Lenders, erring on the side of caution, may no longer use these small independent companies because they are not an AMC. 

   Additionally, the cost of an appraisal has escalated.  There is another level of management involved with the AMC.   Appraisals used to cost between $325 and $375; now they are $400 plus.  Ironically, the appraiser, the person with the expertise, is now paid at least $100 less than pre-AMC.   The differential goes to the AMC.

    Appraisers new to the market join the pools to beef their resume and gain experience.   Lenders request the appraisal from an AMC approved by the entitity subsequently underwriting the loan.   Appraisals may be done by people who do not know the area,

      Appraisers have guidelines and take some of  their comps from within a mile of the  property.  Tucson properties have been appraised by out of area appraisers and these appraisals may come in unusually low.  In a one mile segment, one 1/2 mile area may have custom built homes valued at $800,000 whereas the other 1/2 mile segment may have tract homes valued at $250,000.   Each property may be 3,000 square feet but looking at paper, the appraiser does not know the difference.  This skewing would occur  with automated valuation models which are not prohibited by the code. (

         As a Realtor representing my client, I often spoke with the appraiser and provided my comps with other pertinent  information.   If I represented a property and knew the comps showed two distressed properties, I made sure the appraiser understood.   Perhaps I knew a property had been flooded or there had been a fire, this information materially impacts the value of that home…it should not materially impact the value of the home I am trying to sell.   Understanding the area or the history of the area and properties is part of the knowledge base used to make good decisions.  

 1- Fannie Mae guidelines FM 0109 page 2 2009


Home Valuation Code of Conduct

FREE On Line Book About Foreclosures…

Monday, July 20th, 2009

   Any number of life events can cause a homeowner to become delinquent on his or her mortgage payment:  loss of job, divorce,  death, incarceration, medical bills, caring for children’s children, caring for parents, adjustments in mortgage terms, accident.  These are life’s events.  Mortgage delinquency is not planned.

   The State of Arizona, through Attorney General, Terry Goddard, and the Arizona Foreclosure Task Force, has issued a booklet about foreclosure which can be download from your computer.  The workbook, which provides timely and accurate information, is at:


Although this information was written for the citizens of the Grand Canyon State, the worksheets and general information pertain to anyone.  The specifics of foreclosure in Arizona may differ in your state; check with your local HUD office or your own Attorney General’s office, or seek the counsel of a qualified attorney and Realtor who understand the foreclosure process. 

The booklet warns against “scams” where people promise to keep you in your home or suggest you can get a better interest rate.  The old adage applies:  “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is”.

Although it is often frustrating, people who believe they may be in financial trouble, should contact their lender immediately and determine if any “work-out” can be done.  Keeping a journal of information detailing the time and date, plus the general conversation and to whom you spoke is important.  Chances are you will not speak to the same person when you make calls and having this ready reference will be be invaluable. 

You should be prepared to detail the “hardship” you face and a “hardship letter” will be required if you eventually go to a “short sale”. The worksheets in the booklet help the consumer detail how and when the hardship took place. 

For the state of Arizona, a list of housing counselors is provided.  If you are located outside of Arizona, call your local HUD office (Department of Housing and Urban Development listed under the Federal Government).  Housing counselors are trained to work with the lenders and may have more success than you as an individual homeowner may have.  They will need your information from the worksheets.

Budget forms are provided since the lender will want to know about your personal assets and liabilities.  Easy to use forms help determine what type of loan (s) you may have on your property.  Once you complete this information, you should have a good understanding of your financial situation and whether a short sale or foreclosure is the only option, or whether you can keep your home. 

Options are detailed if you elect not to keep your home which also includes bankruptcy and the types of bankruptcy.   Finally  there is a segment on scams and how to recognize a scam.

Remember, this is public information and as soon as Notice of Sale if filed with the Recorder’s Office, people will come out of the woodwork offering to “help” you.   If you know of someone who may be facing financial difficulties, share this information with him or her. 

Be proactive and knowledgeable, for in knowledge there is power.


Weekend Wanderings…Sonoita, Elgin and Patagonia

Friday, July 17th, 2009

   Tucson summer is here…temps are plus 100 and the humidity has brought monsoon weather.  The dew point has reached 54 for three successive days.    Tucsonians who want a respite from the warm weather often trek to Summerhaven, a small village in the Catalina Mountains at an elevation of about 8,000 feet.   But now that the pie lady is no longer,  going south for wine tastings is another option. 

   Sonoita, Elgin, and Patagonia are cool places, both in the euphemistic term and in the literal term.  At an elevation of about 5,000 feet and within 45 minutes from Tucson,  Sonoita is located off of I-10 traveling west on Naugle Avenue, otherwise known as State Highway 83.  Elgin is to the east of Sonoita about nine miles, and Patagonia is about 12 miles south on Route 82. 

   The three communities are surrounded by mountains and national forests; the Santa Rita Mountains, the Patagonia Mountains, and the Coronado National Forest.  Parker Canyon Lake, a popular recreational areas is to the south of Elgin on Route 83.  Patagonia hosts a word class birding area.

    Gently slopping grassy hills contrast with Tucson’s craggy mountainous rocky terrain.   The topography is dramatically different and one understands immediately how Sonoita became a big horse country area.  The temperatures are cooler because of the elevation and in the winter, dustings of snow are not unknown occurances.

    The amount of rainfall is conducive to wine growing, combined with cool summer nights. Traveling the back roads, grape arbors are a common sight.  Several family owned wineries produce award winning Arizona wines.   A jaunt to Arizona wine country, less than an hour from Tucson, is an interesting, educational and fun Saturday or Sunday excursion.

    Known as the Mountain Empire, these areas also have small cafes and bistros which serve up vittles ranging from Mexican to gourmet, to cowboy.  There are art galleries, gift shops, bookstores, as well as an abundance of bed and breakfasts, including a bed and breakfast where you can also board your horse.

    The Mountain Empire Rotary, the Patagonia Area Business Association and the Sonoita/Elgin Chamber of Commerce offers a Mountain Empire Passport which provides discounts for many of the businesses in the area.  For additional information, contact Charlie Kentnor of Realty Executives at 520-455-5560 or Tom Anderson at 520-250-7205, both of whom can assist in obtaining a passport.

    Take a ride this weekend south…rather than to the Catalinas and enjoy what the Mountain Empire has to offer!