It only takes a few conversations with real estate agents for me to appreciate the value of their work, their spirit and independence and the importance of their local standing.
Last week, I sat on the porch of the American Hotel in Sag Harbor on Long Island with veteran Douglas Elliman agent Michael Daly who tools around town in his bright yellow jeep. A lively and affable character, he was greeted by an assortment of local residents who he knew from past real estate deals, his involvement in the community and from just being a good neighbor.
He dresses like many of them, talks like some of them and feels their joy and their hurt.
He told me a story of a client who recently lost his 29-year old son to drugs and how he shared in the family’s grief.
Good real estate agents aren’t carpetbaggers, they are part of the weave in a community’s tapestry. They are hyper-local beings who do purposeful work, helping people buy homes and to create communities. In the process, they often get close to their clients, occasionally becoming friends for life.
They are not selling opiates for pharmaceutical companies or peddling arms at weekend gun shows. They plod, push, console and help people buy and sell homes. They work with eager young couples finding their first house, sort through complicated divorce settlements where families must leave their homes and help untangle gnarly transactions that no robot could possibly figure out.
Real estate deals are often packed with legal, financial and emotional challenges. Good agents, while technically not lawyers, accountants or therapists, are there for their clients on all three fronts — coaching, advising and listening — as they push transactions forward.
And because agents are embedded so deeply in each and every community, their work is essential to keeping the flywheel of real estate operating. Sure, some folks diminish the role of agents in an era of rapid technological change, but they are not going away.
They have a front row seat in the local scene, walking hand in hand with the neighborhoods they serve, providing an essential community service.
Agents mirror the places where they live and work. A few days before meeting Daly, I had dinner on the Upper East Side of New York City with Clelia Warburg Peters, the president of Warburg Realty, and her father Frederick Warburg Peters, the CEO.
Frederick is a graduate of Yale University and an avid gardener at his second home in Connecticut. He occasionally wears a bow tie and Clelia lives on 5th Ave. As different as night and day from Daly, the Warburgs aptly reflect the tony community they serve where clients are more than customers.
Their work is rewarded in more ways than earning a commission and honored in more ways than helping close transactions.
Agent Katie Clancy of William Raveis The Cape House argues that real estate agents are positioned for success as community leaders. In her speech at Inman Connect last month, Clancy said too many agents are chasing the almighty dollar and consumed with that singular focus, limiting their opportunities. Instead, she said, agents should reorient their business as service enterprises and become community leaders.
Last week, I was tracking down a rumor about Compass buying Pacific Union, which turned out to be true. I called top producing agent Jim Walberg who works in the San Francisco area. He has married his role as a successful agent with his duty as a dedicated community leader.
He had not heard the rumor, but he made an off-handed comment that was packed with meaning, “I couldn’t care less, the [broker-owner] brand does not matter to me.”
Walberg was not being flippant or disrespectful, that is not his style. Instead, he got to the heart of how insignificant in the scheme of things these high-level industry changes can be, and how little influence they have on the day-to-day routine of a good agent and to the communities that they serve.
“We run our business wide and deep and only focus on our 750 people [the community in his database] who we are ready to serve at any time.”
That says it all.