From 2004 to 2006, I met with a local real estate agent for lunch each week. We agreed on Tuesdays after he completed Caravan. I owned a software company during that time. My time was very limited, but this was a special man and something told me I needed to do this. At first, he wanted to become a customer of my company, but in the course of becoming a client he also became a friend.
This Mission Grill
We’d meet in San Luis Obispo. A creek runs through the center of this California town fed by the melting snow off the Sierra Nevadas hundreds of miles east. On the west bank of the creek is Mission San Luis, a 300-year-old building that stands as testimony to the abhorrent cruelty of the early Spanish missionaries against the Native Americans.
Restaurants stretch along the east bank, and each has an outdoor terrace. The best view of the Mission is from the Mission Grill Restaurant. Robin insists we eat there — outdoors, facing west.
Our meetings began with Robin as the student and me as the teacher. Robin wanted personal instruction on everything he dubbed “technology.” One week it was tablet computers, the next it was exorcising the Kool-Aid he drank at a recent Hobbs Herder conference.
“You’re gonna kill me, Davison,” he said at the start of lunch. He slid a tri-fold brochure featuring a man fishing on a lake in Jackson Hole, Wyo., across the table. “I want to do this, so convince me why I shouldn’t.”
Sara, our server, brought the menus. Sara recently moved here from Boston. She knows that when serving me, she can be herself. I asked her if she could tell me what the guy in the brochure did for a living. Across the top of the brochure in large letters, she read: “I can handle your HOLE deal.”
Sara’s lips curled pondering the ramification. She opened the tri-fold and gazed at pictures of the man walking the beach, enjoying a Frisbee with his golden retriever. She turned it over, acknowledged the back and said, “I don’t know what he does, but the ass HOLE can’t spell.”
Robin laughed at Sara’s East Coast candor. That is until I looked at him dead square and said, “That could be you.” Robin asked her if she were moving to Jackson Hole would she hire that guy as her agent. She fired back. “No way, he looks like he never works.”
Robin was honest about his shortcomings — from computer literacy to Internet marketing. Unlike so many, he did not wear his lack of knowledge like a badge of honor.
Robin did not want to be typical or cliché. He felt odd adding, “Oh and by the way” to his e-mail signature file. He told me on more than one occasion that he felt he hadn’t grown his skills since he got his real estate license. Every seminar he attended was taught by old-timers selling out-of-date techniques. He said, “I owe it to my customers to be better.”
This is why I agreed to meet with him. He’s real.
Our meetings ended abruptly nine months ago. I sold my company and moved on. Robin got caught in the California housing bubble burst. The plastic shrapnel hurt a lot of people, Robin included. I never had a chance to tell him that, over time, I learned more from him and the ways of a Realtor than he ever could from me.
Real estate is complex business. I cannot imagine why the licensing process is short and easy. An agent needs people skills, psychological skills, technological skills, legal skills, organizational skills, due diligence. And now a new skill — the ability to wean off old ways and embrace new ideas — is critical to success.
Leslie Appleton-Young once told me that Realtors take more business risks than 10 business entrepreneurs combined. I understood that on a much deeper level after spending two years with Robin. When our meetings ended, I felt that somehow I let him down. I’ve learned since then that there’s so much still I don’t know.
Marc Davison is vice president of OnBoard, a real estate data provider based in New York. Davison previously served as vice president of VREO, a provider of electronic signature and Web site software for the real estate industry.