It was vacation minus one, and as I navigated between the nine homes on our home tour this day, I tried to field the "What are you doing for the holidays?" question. This is where I found myself explaining the realities of a glamorous real estate career to my clients with real jobs. "Well, we sort of take the week off. We pack stuff, and we drive away with it to someplace else. But, don’t worry! I will have my laptop and my cell phone and will be checking my e-mail. You won’t even know I’m gone."
And that’s the problem. Over the years, I have reinforced these ground rules to the point that when we do take that rare vacation, I don’t even know I’m gone.
When our children were much smaller versions of their present-day mall-stalking selves, we started our family tradition of spending the week at our local mountains. San Diego has one season (we call it June), and when the retailers start playing their seasonal tracks, which sing of winter wonderlands and roasted chestnuts (June), we begin to feel a little left out.
What’s this "nipping at your nose" concept of which you speak? So while people everywhere else start devising ways to escape the weather, we set out in search of it. And we take the office with us. Other families are drinking eggnog, and I am trying to get Jack Frost qualified for an FHA purchase.
So, I explained to my clients the implications of my career choice. Agents work when everyone else doesn’t. Weekends are time off for most but are prime time for me. Evenings? This is when our clients want to hear our listing presentation. The week I am in bed with the Martian Death Flu? That is the week everyone with whom I have ever made eye contact will suddenly want to write an offer on a home.
And during the December holidays, that sleigh bell I hear is really the signal for anyone who has ever thought about moving up, down or out to take the ultimate shopping trip. I often feel out of sync.
This year has been extremely challenging for those of us who chose a career in real estate, and many of us are left kicking ourselves, at least occasionally, for not pursuing our early dreams of being firefighters and princesses.
The randomness of our commission-based business means we must work when the work is there. If we are truly away from the office, we need to either be prepared to make it a working vacation or pay someone back at the home front to cover for us, giving "vacation pay" a new meaning.
When transactions are fewer, it is hard to justify ponying up. When each transaction has a higher degree of difficulty, it is tough to concede a "referral fee" given that the newly inspired client in question is one whose own children you have watched grow, one whose family name is inscribed in the commemorative plaque mounted to your dashboard.
And being really away almost always means lost opportunity. There are millions of me’s, and if I am out making snowmen and memories, someone else will be out ordering the yard sign.
It comes down to balance. We need time for ourselves and our families, and we need to eat. So where do you draw the line? This year has been a big year for reflection. We have made the commitment to do a few things that make little sense in the context of current realities, things that will cost us now but we believe will benefit us in the long run.
We left the comforting hearth of our broker and set out on our own; we started spending money again, money we had quit spending at the first sign of bad weather, on marketing and other business enhancements; and we generally decided that at a time when we are watching the value of our investments tumble, now was the time to reinvest in ourselves. In short, we are doing all of things we know we need to do and when we can least afford it.
In this spirit, despite the economy and despite all of the indicators that suggest 2009 will be more of the same, I did the unthinkable this year. I decided to take a real vacation, one in which I temporarily relocated both physically and emotionally. To my amazement, each time I explained that I would be unavailable for an entire week except in an emergency (hair on fire, the county recorder’s office on fire, an Elvis sighting), my clients didn’t seem to be the least bit bothered.
In actuality, it turned out that my clients’ real estate needs to which I attached DEFCON 1 status rated much lower on their own required readiness scale, carrying a sense of urgency more on par with a trip to the dry cleaners or back-to-school night.
We made it to the mountains without incident, and we were greeted upon our arrival by a 5-foot wall of ice where our cabin used to be and by a parking deck hosting enough mysterious frozen white stuff to make a new polar ice cap. Not wanting to spend the holidays in a snow cave, we opted instead to call the local plowing service. And when the nice man with the big metal scooper on the front of his truck arrived, imagine our surprise to find that this was just a side business. "I am really a Realtor," he confessed. I should have seen this coming. And this should have made me feel guilty — he was working two jobs while I was intent on not working at all — but I remained resolute. "I am going to take a vacation!" I screamed to myself.
And I will — just as soon as I put paper in the fax machine, clear the 72 e-mails from my Blackberry and call escrow to see if the loan docs arrived.
Kris Berg is broker-owner of San Diego Castles Realty. She also writes a consumer-focused real estate blog, The San Diego Home Blog.
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