I’m reading “Infidel,” the autobiography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Born in Somalia, raised in the ghettos of Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya, Ayaan fled to Holland at the age of 23 while en-route to Canada as a human parcel in a contract marriage executed by her father and a distant relative.
Ayaan applied for political asylum while in Holland. Over the course of a decade, this oppressed Muslim child became a freethinking Leiden University graduate, translator, Labour Party employee, writer, author and outspoken voice against women’s oppression.
She matters. She has risked her life for others. She defied traditional boundaries imposed upon her by an aged dogma.
Searching with a loved one
I’m deep into her story when my wife Lori nudges me. Lying beside me, she’s watching a cable real estate show — one that I tend to ignore due to its depiction of real estate agents working through their own dogmatic traditions.
But this moment did not escape me.
A young couple has outgrown their Seattle apartment and decides to buy a home in the ‘burbs. The destination piqued my wife’s interest. She’s the investor in our family. With our eldest son now living in the Pacific Northwest and vowing never to return to California, Lori is on a mission to find us a second home closer to her son.
I put down Ayaan’s story. I get up and fetch Lori my iBook. She Googles the town and like a professional skier glides right over the moguls — the large portal and media sites that rule the top of the organic results — and goes straight to the brokerage and agent sites. These are the sites she believes will have the most information. Clicking on the first promising link we end up on a Web site that looks like it was built in crinoline and latchhook and transported into the ether through a miracle of transubstantiation.
Ayaan recounts an episode wherein she escorts a loved one to the Kenyan border and is forced to bribe one of the world’s most corrupt border police details in order to help him pluck his wife and children from a sea of displaced, homeless refugees.
Straining to focus and locate the “Home Search” link, I join my loved one in a face-to-face encounter with real estate’s border patrol: The lead-generation form we are required to complete before viewing homes.
We fill out the form and gain access to the other side.
A dead end
In the third world known as IDX, we find ourselves walking through a sea of displaced listings. Most are devoid of pictures — faceless, expressionless boxes bearing the words No Photo Available. They are like $900,000 cans on the supermarket shelf with no label on the outside.
One particular home sticks out from its description. From my personal Gmail account I send a cordial request: “Can you please supply some pics for this house?”
A day passes. Then two. On day three, I receive an e-mail from the agent asking me if I really am who I say I am. She includes a link to a page with pictures hoping that it will help me.
The link brings me to a page with six photos. Two are taken from 300 yards out and feature the front of the house. Two are taken from the backyard deck and feature a nondescript field in the middle distance. There is one picture of the kitchen and one of an unidentified room.
I e-mail the agent back asking to please see what can be done to get more pictures. This is day four. It’s now been over a week. No return e-mail. Lori is no longer interested. She ran down a dead end.
In less time than it took to get a small and unsatisfactory amount of information regarding this home, Ayaan and her friend Muhammad crossed the border into Kenya, found a car, drove 18 kilometers to the town of Dhobley where she avoided a gangland-style holdup, and proceeded, on foot, to find Muhammad’s wife and children among the thousands of refugees.
A ridiculous comparison? It’s a ridiculous reality.
While real estate practitioners in several states work to enact “minimum standards” legislation to protect against the phantom threat of “limited-service providers,” more full-service brokers should be looking inward to create their own minimum standards.
A three-day response time along with one significantly poor e-mail is a real estate dagger stabbing the public’s back. It’s psycho. And what is my recourse? Where is the feedback platform where I can post a review so the agent will understand how unacceptable his effort was? So the seller could be alerted of the lost opportunity? So the broker could send me a letter and try to retain my interest in doing business with her brand?
A little refugee girl, circumcised as a child, beaten by her father because his religion tells him it’s OK to do so, rose from the squalor that is Somalia and became a member of the Dutch parliament. She now lives in hiding fearful of retribution from her religion.
Thankfully, real estate leaders don’t risk life and limb to make change happen. Sometimes it just seems that way.