Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent the past six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
As Facebook Memories reminded me this morning, it was 365 days ago that I worked my last day at Zillow Group, and figuratively — and occasionally literally — sailed off into retirement.
Let’s just say that it’s been an interesting ride!
Going into retirement, I knew that if I didn’t stay busy, I would lose my mind. Although there is a lot to be said for lounging around in sweatpants and binge-watching Netflix, it’s important to do something to keep the mind and body active.
So there were some speaking engagements, a little consulting here and there, at this moment in time, you’re reading my column No. 37 here on Inman. I missed my deadline, again. Thanks to the very understanding editorial team, again.
Lots of travel, seeing new places, meeting people in different cultures. Travel is probably the single-best way to really learn about the world and the humans that inhabit it.
I also started volunteering to staff a national sexual assault hotline. What an eye-opening, often brutally painful experience that has been. It’s very difficult, but incredibly rewarding at times. It’s taught me a lot about people, society and sadly, how much evil exists in the world.
So retirement has been quite the learning opportunity. Given that today is my one-year anniversary of retired life, it seemed like a reasonable time to capture some of what I’ve learned.
Because this is a real estate publication, those observations and lessons will be geared toward real estate, though like any life-lesson, much of this applies to other aspects of our sometimes complicated lives.
People are fundamentally the same everywhere
My post-retirement travels have taken me to Greece, Scotland, Turkey, England, France, Portugal, Spain and Italy. Throw in the micro-countries of the Vatican, San Marino and Andorra, and you’re looking at 11 different countries. Eleven different cultures. Eleven different histories.
Although that makes it sound like the people we’ve come across would all be quite different, the reality is we’re all strikingly similar.
We’re human beings first and foremost, and our basic needs, wants and desires are the same. Food and shelter, of course, are necessary. But the similarities run deeper than those fundamentals.
Parents want to protect their children and have them grow up happy and healthy.
Most of us have a “significant other” in our lives. Whatever you call them — spouse, companion, partner, BFF, girl/boyfriend — matters not. They are that person you want to grow with, love and protect.
Despite what you see, read and hear, I think that fundamentally people are good. Sure, there are exceptions, but the vast majority of the people out there are productive, contributing members of society who want the best for themselves, their families and their fellow humans.
Understand that basic human nature has people looking out for themselves and family first, but still caring about others.
This thinking goes for agents, brokers and their clients, too. Having had the pleasure of speaking at real estate conferences in two different countries in the past year (three if you count Las Vegas, which is kind of like being on a different planet), I’ve learned a lot about real estate sales outside the U.S.
Just as I’ve observed that humans are remarkably similar across cultures, I’ve seen that agents are also the same. As I noted in a column written after speaking in Portugal, agents and brokers worry about their clients and their business. They are marketers, counselors and entrepreneurs, just like agents in the States.
They might have different rules, different technology, different ways of doing business, but the fundamentals are still the same — they have to secure future business while supplying superior service to existing clients.
The fundamentals of what you do doesn’t change. Real estate is an expensive, emotional, confusing, infrequent transaction. Whether you sell real estate in Boston or Barcelona, you are helping someone through a tough transaction. You are making a difference in someone’s life. Don’t forget that.
Fear and uncertainty are rampant in real estate
I’ll be honest: I was hoping that with my retirement would come some peace and quiet away from the often passionate, sometimes hateful, commentary about the future of real estate, the “disruptors” that some feel are out to eliminate their jobs, the vendors who are deemed collectively to be only interested in the almighty buck.
Sadly, that hasn’t happened. It’s my own fault, I simply can’t look away from this business — the good, the bad and the ugly.
The fear-mongering and ignorance actually seem to be increasing as time marches on.
Yes, there have been a lot of changes in this business over the past 12 months. IBuyers are clearly ramping up. There’s the “bombshell lawsuit” that gets some significant print here and in other real estate publications, yet seems to be ignored by many.
Ignore that at your own risk. I think it’s years away, but these lawsuits might very well change the way buyer’s agents in particular are paid.
Living in fear does no one any good. There is no excuse for ignorance.
While you might not be an antitrust attorney, you can educate yourself so that you can understand more about these lawsuits and and learn to deal and adapt, rather than cowering in fear — or worse, simply ignoring them out of ignorance.
Technology won’t cost you your job
In the six-plus years I worked for Zillow group, I can’t begin to count the number of times I heard people claim that technology was going to replace them.
In the 12 months since I retired, that mantra has not slowed. Agents are often borderline obsessed with thoughts of being replaced.
I’ve spent the past year somewhat removed from real estate, escaping some of it quite intentionally. One thing that cannot be escaped however, is the constant pounding of the, “they’re going to replace us! All they want to do is eliminate the agent, and elbow their way into our commissions,” drum.
And that drum is being beat loudly and frequently.
“They” in this case seems to be anyone doing anything differently than has been done in the past.
Here’s some brutal honesty for you: If you think a website or an app can replace you, you’re probably correct; you should be looking for your next line of employment.
On the other hand, if you understand human nature, if you can provide empathy, understanding, patience and value to someone who is in the middle of an expensive, emotional, complex process then you have zero concerns about being replaced by technology.
My biggest lesson learned
I’ve been an avid observer of humanity for years. Retirement has offered me new opportunities to expand my observations across many different cultures.
Despite the miles, the years of history, the ideological differences and more, I’ve learned that we’re remarkably similar as people.
We have the same basic needs — the same wants, hopes and fears. Humanity knows no borders. Understand that, focus your efforts on satisfying those basic, almost primal needs and wants, and your business can grow — with far less fear and worry than you’re probably carrying now.
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Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree in Seattle, as well as the mastermind behind Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook or Instagram. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty.