This morning, in his announcement that he'll be running for Senate, Republican Dino Rossi bemoaned the fact that "housing values have plummeted" and expressed deep concern about America being "on the edge of a fiscal cliff."
But last night, at a seminar on real estate investing held in the dimly lit banquet hall of an Italian restaurant in Bellevue, Rossi was all smiles and optimism, telling the well-dressed attendees that now is a great time to make money. "This is the time to purchase," Rossi said, wearing a gold tie and crisp white shirt. "Especially income property."
One of the major methods for gathering "income property" that was encouraged at this conference: Buying foreclosed properties—that is, real estate lost by Americans who have fallen over the edge of a "fiscal cliff" in recent months—and turning those properties into cash cows. (One of the later speakers, Christopher Hall, founder of the Vestus Foreclosure Group, discussed "how to make over a 50% ROI [Return on Investment] per year buying and selling foreclosures.")
Democrats have slammed Rossi for appearing at the conference at a time when average Americans are struggling to keep from losing their homes, and this morning the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sent out an e-mail asking, among other things: "Did Dino Rossi receive compensation for his appearance at the conference? Why didn’t Dino Rossi pull out of the conference? Why did he allow one of his past campaign stickers to be used in the conference promotional materials?"
I believe I can answer the first question: A conference organizer told me last night that Rossi was, indeed, paid for his appearance. The organizer would not, however, say how much.
Just before Rossi's talk, in the crowded hallway outside the banquet room, I ran into Rossi and tried to ask some other questions. He responded with a frozen smile. Then he laughed a long, loud laugh, as if we'd just shared a hilarious inside joke, and quickly turned on his heel and sped into the banquet room.
The room was paneled in dark wood and filled with circular tables bearing white lilies. A woman seated next to me at the table I chose told me the message of the event was likely to be "buy low, sell high."
I took some pictures of Rossi glad-handing before his speech, though the table candles and faint lighting didn't make for great images:
Then a conference organizer came over and told me that no cameras or audio recording equipment of any kind were allowed. I put the camera away and took notes.
Rossi's speech was mostly motivational pablum ("There's a lot of naysayers in the world... Don't listen to the naysayers!") mixed with biographical anecdotes (including a very extended talk about his kids' efforts to encourage him to get a family dog).
As he talked, he spun an up-by-the-bootstraps tale of going from janitor to big-time real estate investor, and described his current employment this way: "I’m a principal at Coast Equity Partners, based in Everett... I’m part of the buying arm." (Worth noting as Democrats continue to try to tie Rossi to any and all mistakes made by Coast Equity, including its recent failure to pay $20,000 in property taxes.)
Though he's part of the Coast Equity buying arm, Rossi said he hadn't bought a building since 2005. “My real estate purchases are even more conservative than my politics," he said. “Right now we’re seeing some reasonable values, some rational values, whereas a few years ago it didn’t make a lot of sense, at least to me.”
Rossi also noted the appearance of some protesters outside the event, but said he wasn't impressed by their numbers.
He did, however, make one attempt at casting real estate investing as an altruistic pursuit not deserving of scorn. “You’re providing shelter and you’re providing homes for people," he said. "It’s a good thing.”
Then he closed with another exhortation to buy now: "I'm telling you folks, don't listen to the naysayers."