My husband had no sooner wrapped his most recent anecdote about a friend who, having been laid off a year ago, was about to throw in the job-search towel and "just become a Realtor" when I found myself watching a television crime drama in which the scene was re-enacted. The drug runner, while under interrogation, confessed to the crime.
And he copped a plea: "I’m just doing this until I get my real estate license."
Ha, ha, ha! Good one! Keep in mind this was a drama, but I got the punch line. It seems to be pandemic, this notion that salvation for the underemployed or the unemployed is to simply get a real estate license. But, most of these folks just don’t know what they’re getting into.
Everything comes with a warning label these days. Even my toaster comes with a warning label ("Do not operate bread browning device while spot welding in the shower"). So, why not a real estate license?
"This offer is nontransferable, non-negotiable and does not guarantee holder a six-figure income. Space is subject to availability. A valid credit card is required for check-in, and cancellations will be subject to forfeiture of prize monies. Oh, and you may never see your family again."
That’s the short version. As a public service, I will give you the longer one.
It begins innocently enough. You emerge from the testing site armed with an impressive credential printed on crisp card stock and a head full of important facts. Suddenly, you find yourself using the word "chattel" in complete sentences for no particular reason ("That’s some mighty fine chattel you have there, but I’m a vegetarian!").
You can now sedate an entire room upon your arrival, before you have even located the onion dip, with authoritative industry rantings about stuff like Easton vs. Strassburger, the Holden Act, and the fact that asbestos can cause linoleum. And you will, because the first thing they teach you is that you must not be a secret agent. You must "work" your "sphere."
"Working your sphere" is real estate code for "alienating everyone who used to sort of tolerate you." This includes your family, of course. Oh, you will represent a few of them in their transactions, but you will actually pay them at close of escrow because, well, they’re family.
And unless Grandma is willing to downsize on the first and 15th of every month, you will quickly exhaust this "pipeline" (which is code for "potential dollar signs that bear an eerie human resemblance if you close one eye") and recognize that it is time to get some real work.
Real work requires farming, and this is where branding your chattel comes in. But first, you must attend the photo shoot where you are required to assume a contorted pose that suggests you recently donated your left hip to science. It’s a Department of Real Estate thing. And you will bring props with you, like telephones and domestic animals. Then, voila! Thanks to the miracles of digital enhancement, people will now regularly mistake your head shot for that of a 16-year-old Scarlett Johansson (or a 15-year-old Scarlett Johansson if you are female). You will never update your photo again — unless, of course, you get a new dog.
Next, to the delight of your unlicensed immediate family, you will put your likeness on every stationary object within 12 miles of your "farm." Good places to display your face include bus benches, shopping carts, your car, and any place that might cause your children to seek therapy or foster care — like directly in front of the student bleachers at the high school homecoming game (true story).
And you will sit open houses — hundreds and hundreds of them. Open houses are where the real magic happens. They are free, they are fun, and they are efficient. Rather than have "prospects" treat you with contempt one at a time, you can give dozens the opportunity to avoid eye contact while setting a new record in the 20-meter relay, all in three-hour block.
Sure, you will have them sign the guest register. And you will follow up with "thank you" cards to 37 people, all of whom are coincidentally named Ben Dover.
One weekend you will get lucky. Having attached yourself like a really desperate barnacle to some poor unsuspecting couple from Duluth who wasn’t able to outrun you, you will sell them a house. You will use your commission check to celebrate and buy yourself something pretty — like running water.
Successful real estate agents possess the common trait of "stick-to-itiveness," and after a couple of years crouched in the gazanias knocking snails off your stylish Realtor shoes (the ones that scream "I am successful in an understated, approachable kind of way") in a game of "find the lockbox," you will have achieved Top Producer status.
Your red carpet days are filled with glamorous tasks like scanning, filing, meeting the termite guy, scanning, filing, meeting the mold inspector, crouching in the bushes, and taking phone calls.
Yes, they are calling you now! And they will ask things like, "Are you the listing agent?" "Will you credit me some of your commission if I allow you to crawl around on all fours in the gazanias on my behalf?" and "Is this the Jiffy Lube on Broadway?" But, being a Top Producer, you know it takes 99 no’s to get that one yes. And you have learned things that come only with experience — like there are 43,560 square feet in a furlong. And the only thing that matters to buyers and sellers in a six- or seven- figure transaction is the chattel.
In the span of a mere 13 months, you have shown your most recent clients every home in the tri-county area, and you have written 76 offers for them (all 40 percent below list price, even though there were multiple offers, because some dude named Case — or Shiller — said that something bad happened three months ago).
Finally, you negotiate a "contract," which is code for "now you may crouch in the gazanias every day for the next 45 days so that a licensed representative from every company listed in the National Building Trade Registry may find things wrong with the place."
You will negotiate a Request for Repair that reads like the assembly manual for the International Space Station. You will communicate with the lender daily to ensure that those coveted loan documents arrive before your client dies of natural causes.
("Using the keys on your touchtone phone, enter the last four digits of pi and the name of the loan officer you wish to speak with. In Swahili. Backwards. To speak to the next available representative, hang up and dial again.")
And, then, on Day 44, you will generate the cancellation instructions. It will involve the master bedroom draperies.
You’re a Top Producer, so you have learned that cancellations are an occupational hazard, just a minor nuisance in the big picture. So you rinse and repeat. You have a six-figure income and a six-figure marketing budget. You have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a blog, an impressive Klout score, and running water. Lots of people (mostly other agents) "like" you.
You are crazy-busy, but now you are regularly missing family events (like the birth of your own child) so that you can present a counteroffer, canceling dates with friends so that you can list a house that the seller will instead decide to rent two months later, and taking your kids to birthday parties on the wrong day (another true story) because you haven’t a clue what day it is.
You haven’t had any "me" time — for trips to the Jiffy Lube or the dentist — in months, and you haven’t had a real vacation since the Eisenhower administration. You occasionally find yourself dreaming about a career change. Unfortunately, you’ve now gotten a taste of entrepreneurship where your earning "potential," if not your actual earnings, is nearly unlimited.
Recognizing that the only viable alternative given your skill sets now is a lemonade stand or a position as a social media trainer, you brave on.
You now enjoy many referrals from past clients who were dazzled by your professionalism and service — past clients who made you their firstborn’s godparent, named their hamster after you, and built a small shrine in your honor. They are now friends.
In each case, the friends they refer will be their own antitheses, the Hyde to their Jekyll. Your past clients were a delight; the co-workers and acquaintances they refer, however, are nothing like them.
They will have arms growing out of their ears, and will regularly express much dissatisfaction that you don’t know as much about the fine points of a real estate transaction as they and their "Internets" do.
You will carry a spare phone battery in order to field their hourly calls; you will show them one home a day, always with 10 minute’s notice and on a weeknight when you had outpatient surgery scheduled, because they are busy other times. And you can’t fire them.
Defeated, you concede that you will grow old and die together. The kidney transplant will have to wait.
Then it happens. You attend the walk-through with your newest clients, the first-time buyers. They are a refreshing reminder of why you really do this. They thank you! They are enamored of every ruffled window valance, mesmerized by the bubbling fountain and whimsical garden gnomes, and captivated by the Sub-Zero refrigerator of which they have always dreamed.
And then they will cancel the next day — because they will find that none of those things convey.
Just kidding. What they will do is refer all of their friends. And at that moment, many years and many more lines of credit after you first got that crazy idea to "just become a Realtor," you will bow in reverence to the gods of fate.
Because, as "luck" would have it, you are so dang employed that you no longer have time to watch silly crime dramas on television.