The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 11 No. 22 - March 2, 2011


Business focuses on eco-education

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

At right, Karen Fraley conducts a class on flora
and fauna behind Anna Maria Elementary School,
thanks to a grant from a local environmental agency.

Karen Fraley's past 12 years have taken her around the bend many times as she leads residents and tourists into the wilderness on land and in the water, but it might never have been had she not dealt with a spate of free time on her hands as a mother.

"I was looking for something to do while my kids were going to school," he said. "I didn't want to return to school, so I started my business. It was great because I could schedule my job around my other duties as a mother."

Fraley will celebrate the 12th anniversary of Around the Bend on March 5. She said she has introduced 38,453 students and more than 10,000 adults to the Florida story. She said she chose eco-education because of her background.

"I have a degree in horticulture from the University of Florida, and I taught pre-school for seven years," she said. "I was acquainted with the curriculum because I worked as an environmental consultant. I knew the Florida ecosystem, and I wanted to share it."

Fraley said she quickly learned to adapt her tours to what the people wanted.

"When I first started, I thought I would take them on half-day tours," she said. "I quickly found out people don't want to spend that much time on a tour, so I shortened it to about two hours."

Fraley said she faced a lot of competition from other agencies that were conducting free tours, so she carved out a unique niche.

"I decided to market my services to schools, and I was able to obtain grants to pay for my time and services. I got my first grant through the Tampa Bay Estuary Program taking people through Emerson Point."

She said as Around the Bend became more popular, she picked up more grants.

"We now host 90 trips and we have a waiting list of schools," she said. "I work with 40 to 50 schools in Manatee and Sarasota counties."

She also has a list of 10 certified Master Naturalists to lead these tours. At Anna Maria Elementary School, she has held outdoor classes for third-graders for several years. She takes them on a tour of the flora and fauna behind the school and into the bay water with dip nets to capture critters for study before they are released back into the water. She was asked what she likes best about Manatee County's environment.

"I love Florida's scrubs inland because all the scrubland on the water has homes on it," she said. "They are all very interesting.

What would she like to see for the future of Around the Bend?

"I would like to triple my field trips," she said. "We average about 4,000 students per year and I would like to increase that."

Fraley had some agencies to thank. They include the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, Southwest Florida Water Management District, Manatee Sarasota Fish & Game Association, Florida Native Plant Society, Manatee Audubon Society, Manatee Education Foundation, Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency and the League of Environmental Educators of Florida.

For more information on Around the Bend Nature Tours, including a schedule of events and tours, go to its website at or call 794-8773.

Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Reverse mortgages now more attractive

Investment Corner

Over the years I have written about reverse mortgages two or three times. My conclusion was that a reverse mortgage was not something we recommended, but if the retiree in question needed additional income and had significant equity in his/her home, obtaining a reverse mortgage was not a financial mistake.

The big negative of reverse mortgages in former times was the very high cost of establishing the credit line. Mortgage insurance, origination fees and processing fees could add up to very high levels. Recent changes in the structure of reverse mortgages have allowed these costs to come down, in some cases dramatically.

The largest change is the introduction of a new version of reverse mortgage. It is called the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage Saver Option (or HECM Saver). This newer type of reverse mortgage reduces the amount which can be borrowed against the value of the home by about 10 to 20 percent, but reduces the up-front mortgage insurance charge from about 2 percent to 0.1 percent. Since the mortgage insurance is calculated on the value of the home, not the amount borrowed, this is a huge savings. On a home valued at $300,000, the mortgage insurance charge would now be about $30 instead of $6,000!

It should be noted that borrowers still pay ongoing mortgage insurance charges of about 1.25 percent of the outstanding loan balance on an annual basis. This is one of the primary reasons I recommend using the credit line concept, drawing on the credit available in small amounts as needed, rather than pulling down the entire loan amount up-front.

Lower loan origination fees are also helping. Fees used to be capped by law at $6,000, but lower fees are now common, and consumers should shop around. Keep in mind, a reverse mortgage with lower origination fees may carry a higher interest rate, and you'll have to consider one against the other before making a decision.

How is the structure of a reverse mortgage different than a home equity loan or credit line? The primary difference is that no monthly principal and interest payments are due on a reverse mortgage. Despite their significant fees, they may be a good alternative for retirees who have a lot of value in their homes, but little in the way of securities investments to draw income from.

The money drawn on the credit line accumulates with each draw and the associated interest charges, but no payments are due. When you sell the home, the reverse mortgage credit line must be paid off before any of the remaining house value can be distributed.

Reverse mortgages can only be established on primary residences by owners age 62 or older. The home must be owned free and clear or have a very small mortgage, which can be paid off using the new reverse mortgage. Non-profit counseling services are available in many areas to help with the decision to establish a reverse mortgage. The Department of Housing and Urban Development also has information on reverse mortgages at While there are many mortgage underwriters who will issue reverse mortgages, I recommend dealing with a larger, reputable firm. Wells Fargo, MetLife Bank, and Financial Freedom come to mind as places to start your search. All have informative websites, and Wells Fargo has offices in the Bradenton area.

In summary, while reverse mortgages may not be the best financial deal, they have become much less expensive and may be a good alternative for those whose primary wealth is in their home and lack other income sources. One last note, a web search for reverse mortgage will provide a plethora of places to get information, some using the hook of no-fees. As with most things in life, if it sounds too good to be true, 90 percent of the time it usually is. Be careful.

Tom Breiter is president of Breiter Capital Management, Inc., an Anna Maria based investment advisor. He can be reached at 778-1900. Some of the investment concepts highlighted in this column may carry the risk of loss of principal, and investors should determine appropriateness for their personal situation before investing. Visit

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