This week my office had a little shakeup. We received the news that we would be merging with another office. Based on the aftershocks from those outside of the office, and even from some within who are relatively new to real estate, you would have thought that the end of the world was imminent.
I live in California. To people unfamiliar, the thought of living in California conjures images of daily surfing excursions, lattes shared with the cast of "Friends," and earthquakes. They are mostly right. We have earthquakes. And I did see Larry King buying his son a bagel one morning at the deli, but that is a story for another time.
According to the California Geological Survey, there are earthquakes in California every day. Of these, they say, "Each year, 100 to 150 earthquakes occur in the state that are big enough to be felt, but few of these cause any damage." And when we experience one of the I-felt-it kind, it is big news. We had one of those recently.
I happened to be (unbelievable as this may seem) on the computer when it happened. I immediately posted on Twitter. "Cool. We just had an earthquake." The responses from other parts of the country were swift and compassionate. "Our prayers go out to your family!" they said. "Let us know how we can help," they offered. One concerned cyber-buddy even wished me Godspeed. And it was a disaster, alright. A can of paint spilled.
The media loves to make a big story out of nothing, and this was no exception. My daughters and I belly-laughed as, for days on end, we watched the news coverage of the event and the aftermath. Each update featured the same video of a can of blue paint that had fallen from the shelf on Aisle 9 and the same poor hardware store employee charged with cleaning up the mess. We all agreed that, given we had no immediate plans to paint that accent wall, this most recent tremor affected us little.
So, our office "merged" this week. For the record, we are the "mergers," and the merge-ee office is located a whopping 10 miles away. It’s being called "right-sizing" by the serious men in dark suits, and to anyone who lives in real estate, it should have come as no surprise nor should it have been seen as a disaster of newsworthy proportions. It is simple plate tectonics. The industry is ever shifting, and when the balance sheets collide with the old business model, things have to get shaken up.
Based on the aftershocks, you would have thought that the local news was running the paint can footage in a continuous loop. Within hours of the internal announcement, every brick-and-mortar brokerage west of Omaha had called us to offer consolation and a new home. Only, we weren’t distraught, and we certainly weren’t homeless. In fact, we were far from it. Aside from a little mess to clean up (involving a dozen boxes of collateral materials displaying yesterday’s mailing address), we barely noticed. This is because most agents living in this region have known for some time what the brokerages are just now beginning to learn: We don’t need your big, expensive building.
We don’t need a fancy building with an ornate lobby and an administrative staff outnumbering the agents. We don’t need a private office with a window to the parking lot. If we are honest, we don’t even really need the conference rooms with the desktop computers and cappuccino machines. We may want these things, but this is only because we have been told for so long that they are requisite business trappings.
My home, like so many, has a formal living room. It is there because we have been told for years that we need one. I suppose we have come to think of it as a sign of success. But, on those rare occasions when we do entertain, it is funny how everyone ends up in the kitchen. Now I see the formal space as a huge, wasted resource. I have to furnish and maintain it, and if it vaporized tomorrow, I wouldn’t miss it. I would rather allocate that resource to an area that would actually enhance my life: the kitchen. After all, that is where everyone congregates. Yet, the builders keep delivering those formal living rooms, and we all end up paying.
Contemporary agents operate in a new environment, and it bucks the stereotype. Steve and I go to the "office," but we do this only to turn in the files. Periodically we stop by our desk to dust it or take a quick inventory (to see if our stapler is missing again), but mostly it just serves as evidence that our name is still on the office roster. My home office has everything I need to conduct my business. My contracts are online and my "training" is always a click away. My phone number has long been mine and not the number to some remote and impressive front desk; my fax is an e-fax; and my e-mail is wherever I want it to be at any given moment via a simple redirect command.
"What about the clients?" some will argue. If we are willing to cut through the hype, our clients don’t care. Ours is a unique business. Our office is really outside of the office. I meet with clients at the homes I show, I meet with them at their hotel when they are relocating, and I meet with them at their kitchen table when they are listing. I have written contracts at Starbucks and on the hood of my car, but mostly I write them and they sign them online. Where our clients are concerned, the fancy-schmancy office has become, for us, a drop point at best. They leave the keys; we fetch the keys. Cleanup on Aisle 9. Maybe we just find another drop point this week.
Little earthquakes happen every day because they release pressure. It is when the pressure is allowed to build up that you have to worry about the Big One. To all of my Twitter friends and to all of the recruiters out there, thank you for your concern. I am just fine. It was just a little tremor and if you live in real estate, you know they are happening every day — whether we feel them or not.
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