Ice Rinks, Husbands and Spaghetti

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Realtors have long been compared to used car salesmen.

We of the former profession, huff and puff, insulted to the quick that we should be compared to the latter. To parallel our “distinctive” vocation to one that reeks of sleaze and grease and falsehoods? No. NO. NOOO. We Realtors are far superior. Listen, a car may be a person’s second largest investment, but a house? Now we’re talking VERY important! That’s us!

I am a Realtor, have been for 26 years. My peers and I are hardworking control-freaks (I have license to generalize), intent on harnessing situations we don’t have a hope in hell of controlling. Contrary to what it may look like, this is a tough gig. Real estate’s my family’s bread and butter and the hardest job in the world because it’s as uncertain as….The wind? The day we die? Wait! As uncertain as how many pieces of spaghetti thrown onto the ceiling will stick!

I know, I know – it looks like such FUN! We drive people around, learn about them, we have car-picnics (my je nais se quoi), and look at all sorts of properties. You see, we can’t serve them if we don’t know them, so our challenge is to understand buyers’ needs so we can find the perfect new home for them.

Twenty six years ago, during our first bitter winter in Chicago, I drove a second hand Mazda Miata convertible. Who knew I’d need a roomy car when we bought this sexy little number in sunny Orlando. We owed too much to trade for a bigger, less sexy number.  My pride-and-joy was realistically a two-seater with a hint of a bucket in the back (the puff of pleather-covered sponge could in no way be called “a seat”). It was far as from a Realtor’s company car as a bicycle for Cinderella at midnight. (Imagine those pedals with just one glass slipper – OUCH!)  But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

Freshly imported from Guatemala, Robert Maldonado was my first customer. His big family were short on wheels. With his father in the front, Robert, his mom and brother’s heads bashed the now solid canvas which, courtesy of the mounds of snow on my roof, had turned into a mouse-sized ice rink once the freezing rain began.

We arrived at last. The little bungalow had bullet holes in the front window. It was dingy, tiny and oh-so-tired. Robert and his family, likely dazed from their head-bumps and their tight mobile quarters, thought it was the roomiest place they’d ever seen. Robert wanted to buy it immediately. My heart was heavy as I dragged myself home. Conflicted and depressed I wailed “How can I sell this house to Robert when I hate everything about it? It’s his first house. He’s excited. I’ve checked the comparable sales, I know it’s a good buy. But how can I endorse his excitement when I would die before I’d live in it?” My always- empathetic husband said “You have to see a house through Robert’s eyes, not your own.” I’ve followed that doctrine ever since.

Regardless of whether they’re single, gay, married, sworn bachelors or just-divorced, I always tell my buyers that houses are like husbands, “You know ‘em when you see ‘em. You may outgrow them or decide to move on, but at this very moment in your life they must be perfect for your needs. And it’s essential you fall in love. Don’t settle.”

There’s no predicting what will hit a buyer’s “buy” button. It could be as little as a nicely-framed print hanging on the wall (which doesn’t convey with the house) or the friendly dog that greets us at the door. The reason? Who the hell knows! It could be the picture reminds them of their rich high school friend’s house - when their own family home nestled on the “other” side of the tracks; the dog could trigger their yearning for a puppy and the fence at that moment, becomes more important than anything. Whatever makes them feel warm and fuzzy and giddy with excitement makes them fall in love.

It’s all about “The Feeling” and rigid check lists are tossed right out of the car window when they see “The One”.  But finding “The One” can take – well, years. In the thousands of houses I’ve shown, I’ve only ever witnessed one family fall in love with the first one. Hell, I’ve watched kids strapped in the back seat of my car move from cribs to car seats to seatbelts; from wolfing down bottles of pre-pumped breast milk to bottles of Coke. Frankly, I might even be bad at my job for doing this, but my conscience rules: if they “want to buy” the first house they see, I encourage, nay FORCE them to look at more options - just to be sure – and 99.99% times they’ve found their real true love further down the drag.  

Okay. So now our buyers have found a house and our seller’s home is under contact, we Realtors are done, right? Then we get whopping sums of money just for being present at the closing table, right?

Soooo WRONG. But it’s a Realtor’s job to make it LOOK that way to the people we’re serving. Some of my clients have such a good time, they become Realtors. Max four months after the ink dried on their brand new real estate licenses they call me. “How do you DO this? I never knew it would be so hard!” and most of them are no longer in the business.

Back to the pasta I threw upwards…it’s true! Taking a real estate transaction from beginning to end is like throwing spaghetti onto the ceiling to see what sticks. The tenuously anchored strand is constantly lured by gravity or, in a realty parallel, by buyers being swayed in their decision by their mechanic/aunt who bought a house in Alaska in 1993/massage therapist; unrealistic sellers or those that change their minds; buyers losing jobs before finances are through or the worst new circumstances imaginable – even death. Then there’s just plain old fear as they wake up the morning after, with Chicago-in-winter- kind-of Cold Feet.

My chosen profession is driven entirely by emotion.  

Consider the weight of that of sentence. This unpredictable poundage plays havoc with so many lives in a transaction. No matter how excellent we might be at our jobs, someone else’s emotion is something we’re powerless to control.

Imagine that last soggy piece of spaghetti “glued” to the ceiling by only its tip. Its wiggly friends who didn’t have the tenacity or the right angle to make the connection, lie like wet worms on the kitchen floor.  Thanks only to its flour and water component; this little piece hangs on for dear life as its weighty, dangling strand moves for the slightest reason…

…A little gust of wind through the open window or in Realtor-speak = The home inspection: is this house/condo/duplex/triplex/townhouse cosmetically fabulous but structurally dubious? Can we, your Realtors, find the specialists/know how/research you need to adequately advise you to renegotiate, accept a reasonable condition or walk away? “Close the window.” Whew. The wiggly strand settles.

…Music turned up too high three rooms away? Boob-boom-boom affects the wiggling, wobbling, soon-to-fall strand = The appraisal: too low? We’ll celebrate if the seller eats the difference if we’re representing the buyer; or fight tooth and nail to convince the appraiser to reconsider OUR comps if the seller has our loyalty. No appraisal - no closing. Many disappointments on all sides and it’s we who have to deliver the bad news. “Turn down that bloody music!”

…The vacuum cleaner whirring away causing all sorts of wild movement on high = The home owners association rules and regulations? So your truck is emblazoned with “Hoist ‘em and hang ‘em” for your flagpole business and right there on page 52 it says “Vehicles with advertising decals may not be parked on the premises overnight,” and your monster-truck aka mobile-signboard, doesn’t fit in the garage.  “Hoover, go suck somewhere else, will you?”

See? Not so easy.

And that’s not the end of it…what about the buyer’s financing? Without that the buyer, the seller and the agent, the broker, the title company, even Children Miracle Network who get a smidgeon from each transaction, are all SOL. Unlocked, hiking interest rates push buyers into a lower financial bracket…they lose their jobs…they lose their parents who were going to co-sign…they buy a Lamborghini or a new couch that screws up their credit at the last minute…Do you need a TUMS? I’m popping a prescription Prevacid as we speak!

Athol listens to my conversations with half an ear all day. When the phone rings at 8pm or sometimes 11pm (it happens) he’ll say. “Which of you do they need now? Mother? Shrink? Best friend? Financial advisor? Sounding board? Dammit Doll?  Priest? Voice of reason? 1-800-not-quite-a-lawyer? ” One can never tell. But this is my job and I love it. I enjoy 99.9% of the people I’ve served and I’m proud to have been a part of their journey of change. More than 89% of these folks I call “friends” and mean it. Some I even call “great friends.” I would do anything for ALL of them, and I believe, they for me, if I asked.

I love being a Realtor. (Well, most of the time.)

*Let me tell you a little secret. The greatest man who ever walked the earth in my eyes, was my daddy. This man was as honest as the day is long. Peter called a spade, a spade. There was nothing hidden behind his kind brown eyes except intelligence and wit and a moral compass that could solve global conflict. He didn’t “chat”. He talked when he had something to say. But he always listened. It’s what made him so wise and so interesting.

My daddy was a used car salesman and proud of it.

I am a Realtor and proud of my daddy.