I’ve been a little bored lately. And by bored, I don’t mean unoccupied. Work has been vacillating between steady and overwhelmingly busy, and that’s just the point. It has been feeling a little too much like "work" lately.
Real estate has become a huge dichotomy, full of good news and bad, happy and sad, and professional satisfaction with a chaser of a whole lot of frustration.
On the one hand, the job can be exhilarating. It is a wild ride, with every day, transaction and client representing a new surprise package of "I didn’t see that one coming!" fun. One minute you are listing-less, and the next you have four appointments scheduled.
You wake up one morning with no buyer-clients in sight, yet by dinnertime your dance card is full. Now you have a contract; now you don’t, and virtually every transaction brings a wrinkle you have never before encountered — it’s a form of continuing education on steroids.
A real estate career is a roller coaster, and while our goal is to minimize the undulating extremes, the reality is that there will always be highs and lows. Workloads and earnings will ebb and flow, certainly, but that is only part of it.
Being in a people business, so intricately involved in the personal lives of our clients, the business of real estate tends to take an occasional emotional toll as well. None of us are immune.
First, there is the market. The prevailing mood, among customers and agents alike, is only slightly less upbeat than a séance where the host forgot to make the onion dip. Financing is more difficult, every aspect of the transaction is more challenging and time consuming, and the number of people selling under duress is off the charts.
"Would you prefer that your credit be trashed for three years or for five to seven?" isn’t what I would consider a winning social icebreaker, and yet too many of our listing appointments end up being a strategy session on damage control and the prevailing hourly rates of good real estate attorneys.
When sellers today actually have that thing that we like to call "equity," the mood is often still less than celebratory, because now we are left to shatter preconceived notions that our clocks remain set to 2005 with market times measured in hours and settlement checks so sizable that the numbers must be written in scientific notation.
Consequently, our opinion of value and, therefore, our mere presence at their kitchen table is about as welcome as baby back ribs at a Bat Mitzvah.
Meanwhile, buyers are all over the charts. They are anxious and patient all at once. They are anxious about prices, about interest rates, and about missing the homebuyer tax credit du jour by failing to act soon enough. They are also concerned that they might miss a government prize package to be named later by acting too soon.
Many buyers are seemingly in no hurry, and they wear this like a purple heart, having rented throughout and survived the maelstrom. "We’re patient," they say, but for so many, their patience has become a paralysis borne of market uncertainty.
Our assignments are a mixed bag, so some weeks are just one big love fest in which all of our happy clients find the homes of their dreams or sell their homes without incident, and for a price that delights. Then, without warning, everyone we meet has a sad story or unreasonable expectations.
This leaves the agent who has traditionally taken great satisfaction in assisting people in one of their most important personal lifestyle decisions feeling a little defeated. So, now, instead of high-fiving and fist-bumping our way through the final walkthrough as we did last time, we spend the twilight hours of the transaction fighting to the death over the pot rack, the patio furniture and who is going to pay for the missing mailbox key.
There is also a prevailing wind of distrust that has less to do with the market and more to do with changing social and technology fronts. Clients more routinely and more openly question our every move. To some extent, this is healthy. I’m a big fan of checks and balances and of the real estate transaction being a partnership.
But with each new link sent to me by a well-intended client, a link from a blog published in Altoona or Gnome intended to educate me on what their San Diego window coverings should convey or why their San Diego earnest money should be refunded, it’s increasingly difficult to avoid the defensive posture.
Among our agent ranks, I have noticed things getting tenser. It’s simple division. Too many agents divided by too few transactions puts a big damper on the old camaraderie. Ours has always been a competitive business, but we used to coexist rather peacefully, like cats and dogs — like Letterman and Leno. …CONTINUED
Lately, I have seen our relationships becoming slightly more combatant — in our ads, on our Web sites, and even in the talk around the water cooler. Sure, it was always so, but the negative is magnified when the mood darkens.
The arguably larger issue I see is the spotlight that our new-world transparency shines on our competitive, often dysfunctional relationships with each other. We are competing on more channels now and, with the volume turned up, our customers are watching.
So I venture off to my favorite social media outlets in search of levity and some like-minded solidarity. But this week, even there, I feel a change. There is the same network of colleagues and friends, yet the mood is different. Everything we are doing and saying seems to be just a bit too purposeful, long on agenda and short on true connection.
There are still so many passionate, giving agents participating on social platforms for the sincere betterment of the industry. Yet there are growing numbers seemingly on a mission only to monetize something or someone, or to fill a prescription for success.
If I am feeling these things, I have to believe I am not alone. Maybe it’s a loss of innocence, or maybe it’s just a passing storm, but we are mirrors of our surroundings. The reflection is affecting us all, consumers and agents alike, like the woman who came through one of our agent’s open house events last weekend and, when asked for her name, responded, "You don’t need to know my name." Her own social contract apparently didn’t include a clause for respect.
What I call boredom, I suppose, is really not boredom at all. Rather, it’s one of those dips in the track — one of the occasional and unavoidable ruts we all periodically encounter. Some weeks are just not as much fun as others, and that’s when the tough get cracking.
Of course, I can’t possibly navigate 1,000 words without mentioning a daughter, and today is no exception. Recently, on a group blog that Daughter No. 1 runs, one of her writers began a series called "Brand New Girl." In this series, the author, finding herself in her own rut, attempts to step out of her comfort zone and try new things — just for fun.
In that spirit and inspired by the possibilities, I am going to start my own campaign to become a "Brand New Broker."
As a Brand New Broker, my goal is not to win any innovator awards, because Brand New Broker knows her limits. Last time I innovated something, my family begged me to never make meatloaf again. Rather, I am going to take some bold baby steps each day to put the fun back in the work, because I do love this work.
Last week, I attended a training session in a local hotel and upon my arrival, proudly logged my location using FourSquare that, in turn, sent out an all-Twitter bulletin. When I returned home, I was chastised by my entire family for telling the world I was checking into a hotel in the middle of the day.
Brand New Broker will check into the Marriott at noon every day this week, without explanation or apology, just to mess with them and make them wonder.
Brand New Broker isn’t going to read all 45 pages of the Supplemental HAFA Directive; she is going to skim in a way that will make Evelyn Wood envious. She won’t tweet about it, as that would be too predictable. Instead, she may tweet a link to the lyrics of "Wannabe" because the Spice Girls amuse her.
Oh — and I am pretty sure she is going to stop following Anderson Cooper, at least temporarily, because his overly contemplative, furrowed brow avatar is becoming a real buzz kill.
Brand New Broker is going to mix it up. She is going to fill out a purchase agreement digitally one day and in a midnight blue crayon the next. She might run a print ad declaring, "I’m No. 2!" just for the hell of it, or pen an entire bi-fold property brochure without using the letter "m."
And when that rude woman comes through her own open house next week, she will follow her around and alternately refer to her as Gladys and Beyonce between belting out joyous refrains of "Everything’s Coming Up Roses."
It’s hard to turn despair on a dime, but Brand New Broker’s new widgets on her blog should help. "What Your Home USED to Be Worth" will be a big hit, as will the "30-Year Negative Amortization Calculator" and the "How Much You Missed the Bottom By" infographic.
Or, maybe Brand New Broker will just start by vowing to filter the din, stop paying so much attention to all those external distractions, and find the few positives in a sea of negativity, because they do exist. It’s a trap she falls into from time to time, and it feels too much like work when she does.
What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor.