Is there such a thing as a "smooth" real estate transaction anymore? Some weeks I feel like I spend all of my time yelling out the window.
It’s a little trick I picked up in high school. About 87 years ago, when I was 15, my number came up and it was time to take the dreaded "behind the wheel" course. Mean bureaucrats everywhere make this a requirement to getting a driver’s license — even in Texas.
And it was because of this silly prerequisite that I found myself seated behind the very large dashboard of an actual motor vehicle (if you consider a Plymouth Belvedere an "actual motor vehicle," which most serious automobile enthusiasts do not).
I was seated next to an actual driving instructor, or as they like to call them in Texas: the football coach.
I’m sure that driver’s training has gotten more sophisticated today. But back then, when dinosaurs and disco roamed the earth, it was pretty basic stuff. We would bring our cars to the empty parking lot and, one at a time, while the rest of the class congregated on the adjacent sidewalk anxiously waiting their turns, we would hit the gas.
Our goal was to maneuver the parking aisles and return to a complete stop. That was the plan, anyway.
On my first outing, I successfully accomplished the hitting the gas part. A recent transplant to the Lone Star State from California, I was a curious foreign novelty, so I got to go first. And having successfully accomplished forward movement, now the lone pilot of what looked like a really ugly combat tank that got 9 mpg, something went wrong.
Maybe it was the adrenaline ("Hey, look at me! I’m driving! Whee!"), or maybe I simply panicked, but in less time you could say "zero to 60," I was suddenly manning a warp-speed projectile with my trajectory set on a good chunk of the class of ’77.
Fortunately, Houston is really hot in the summer, which meant I was using the air conditioning. In 1964 Plymouth Belvedere speak, this means my window was open. And, suddenly recognizing that a multiple manslaughter charge might mean missing the homecoming game, I had to react quickly. I yelled out the window. "Watch out!!!" I screamed.
Once the color had returned to Coach’s face, I received one of my more important lessons in life. "I don’t know how they do things in ‘Caly-Forna,’ " he barked, "but in Texas, we don’t scream out the window when we are about to run over pedestrians. We honk the horn."
He could have just as easily said, "We sound the vuvuzela" or "We sing the National Anthem." Either way, the point was not lost on me. The point is not that you can necessarily avoid accidents. Rather, it’s how you react in those situations to avoid catastrophe that matters.
If I am honest, the real estate transactions I am involved in daily are uneventful and trouble-free only about 10 percent of the time. Rather, the bulk of my transactions require that I remain in constant possession of a fire hose.
It’s stressful, often confrontational work. There are both checklists and expectations to manage and, as every veteran agent knows, it can affect the best of us by seeping into our personal lives and our general emotional well-being if we let it.
Catastrophes in real estate can come in two forms. The first involves the transaction and the attainment of the client’s goals — they get the house, they sell the house, they close escrow on time, and so on.
This all sounds easy enough, except that the level of difficulty has increased in our profession to the point where even the most straightforward of tasks often leave us feeling like we are running a half-marathon in stilettos.
The lender accepted electronic signatures last week; this week he won’t. On Monday, the bank approved the loan only to deny it on Friday, approve it again after the weekend, and — "Whoopsie!" — deny it yet again despite that fact that everyone has packed and moving trucks are idling.
Sometimes it’s that the buyer who loved the home two weeks ago suddenly lost interest, that the county pulls the recording at the last minute because there was a smudge on page 142 of the documents, or that no one saw that cracked slab or toxic mold coming. Whatever the issue, the one thing we can count on as agents is having issues.
These little transactional crises are actually the easiest for me to deal with. But like driving, it took some experience. Now, after more than a decade of practice, I have become pretty good at remaining clinical — at emotionally detaching — when the glitches occur.
Much harder for me, however, are the issues involving relationships, and so much of our success relies on successfully establishing and maintaining those relationships.
I can be the best real estate agent in the Lower 48, but it is ultimately my client’s perception of my performance that is going to make or break me. And sometimes, no matter how hard you work or how flawlessly you manage and oversee the process, it’s just not good enough.
And "perceptions" can run the gamut. The client’s house sold for too little or he paid too much. Long market times must mean the agent’s marketing fell short, and a canceled escrow — whatever the real reason — happened on the agent’s watch, so it is the agent who must have failed. This is where it gets personal — for the client, and for the agent if we let it.
Knucklehead cooperating agents, declining markets, unrealistic buyers and sellers — we all have to deal with them. But to our clients, the responsibility, if not the authority, is entirely ours.
I have learned in this difficult market to scream out the window early and often in an attempt to establish reasonable expectations and to prepare my clients for all of the obstacles we might encounter. Too often, however, I do this only to watch my clients suffer a big old case of amnesia later.
I suppose the point is this: Not everyone will fully recognize or appreciate our efforts. Our clients’ perceptions will not always be accurate nor will they always be fair. Our jobs are difficult, and the most difficult part is arguably in maintaining balance — in not letting the very personal nature of our work become personal.
Because when we let that happen, we risk losing control — of both our effectiveness as agents and our mood, morale and overall happiness as people.