I am one of those girls who secretly loves tabloid fodder. Sure, I may roll my eyes while in line at the grocery store, but as soon as I get to the gym I run over to the magazine rack and steal at least four copies of People for the elliptical. And I’m betting I’m not the only one with TMZ in my "Favorites" bar.
Some top producers are reading this now and thinking, "Oh! Well, she doesn’t have enough to do, obviously!" But that’s not it at all. I have come to discover that checking in on Justin Bieber periodically throughout my day has actually helped me understand my buyers better. Because if you haven’t already noticed, buyers are doing things differently these days.
My aha moment occurred three weeks ago at Fitness Forever. Under celebrity quips of the day, Katie Holmes was quoted about her apparel choices: "Many times, I’ll be getting ready for an event and I’ll ask her (Suri, age 4) what she thinks. She goes, ‘Definitely those,’ and she won’t let me leave unless I’m wearing what she wants me to wear. She has great taste and I want to make her happy!"
Eureka! We should make the children happy.
Now I realize that many Realtors already employ this tactic through the use of coloring books, juice boxes and Barbie Dolls in the backseat. But you are getting it wrong. Kids can be an integral part of the homebuying and negotiating process. This was demonstrated by my recent slew of showings to couples with kids who wear the pants.
The most interesting of this genre showed up in a 25-foot Winnebago. Yep, that’s right. Five kids and two adults rolled up in their own touring bus. When the doors opened, an exodus of pint-sized opinion leaders descended upon the homes.
Couches became launching pads, stairs were taken three at a time, and low ceilings were just baiting the boys to run faster, jump higher and achieve spaceman status. Meanwhile, mild-mannered mom and dad took it easy, meandering through the kitchen and glancing out windows in an unhurried fashion. I was rushing down hallways counting heads and scribbling nametags on Post-It notes.
"Michael! Stop it! Stop it now!" I screamed at the top of my lungs. Michael, 6, was seeing how many cars he could peg with gravel from behind the English hedge. Michael’s mother glanced in my direction, crinkling her nose. "I don’t know if this yard is big enough for them," she said. "Yes," I agreed. "That does seem to be a problem."
So what were they looking for?
According to the kids, they needed their own space. A rec room that allowed cartwheels (two please) and wide enough for a foosball table. Hookups for a high-definition flat-screen 3-D TV with surround sound were also must-haves.
Mom and dad’s only stipulation became that the kids’ rooms shouldn’t be larger than the master suite — unless a few of them wanted to bunk together. Then, OK. And the backyard must be large enough to play soccer, flag football, and corral Michael away from any passing cars.
I should note that the girls, 11 and 14, did a lovely job of taking photos of each home, in detail. No toaster escaped its portrait; refrigerators were framed affectionately. "This is where we will make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches," declared Samantha. "And spaghetti!" added Jules.
I had to give them some credit, these kids. They were covering more ground than most folk — and had come prepared with cameras, notebooks and enthusiasm.
In the end, Michael, his four brothers and sisters, and mom and dad all loaded up and drove off down the highway back to California. Decisions would be made over the course of their 17-hour drive home. A week later I received their call.
"After lots of thought and deliberation the kids love house No. 2," stated the Mother. "We’ll offer on that one."
And there it was.
Quite possibly the easiest negotiation of home choice I had ever encountered.
So take it from Suri Cruise, budding stylist — or Willow Smith, 9-year-old music phenom — or me, humble broker: Ask the kids. It’s a brave new world.