If we’ve learned anything from past downturns, it’s that there is no normal — new or old. In today’s stressful time, we just have to learn to play the hand we’re dealt. Here’s how one indie broker broaches life and work during a global pandemic.

I keep hearing the phrase “new normal.” A new normal seems more likely than “when things get back to normal.” Let’s face it — staying at home isn’t normal, and neither is canceling classes and events so people don’t come into close contact with others. The last week or so has been surreal. Many things changed quickly, and most of us haven’t had time to adjust.

Like many Inman readers, I, too, weathered the Great Recession and the crash of the housing market. When it started, two people in my household were working — I was in the real estate industry and my husband in the automotive industry.

The company my husband worked for back then went out of business. We made it through the recession, but not without some hardships and sacrifices. I don’t have a rags-to-riches story; it’s more like riches to rags.

I quickly learned that short sales and foreclosures were not for me. I did a couple of sales for clients who couldn’t be talked out of it, even though those sales helped the banks and the real estate agents more than they helped the homeowners.

Don’t ever suggest to the real estate industry that short sales were not in the best interest of consumers.

Selling the houses of my neighbors who were foreclosed upon — because of the double whammy of job loss and equity loss as home prices plummeted — wasn’t something that brought me joy. I saw it as a redistribution of wealth, and it still ticks me off.

We each have to make our own choices, and I have no regrets. We made it through the recession and kept our home and most of our savings. From 2009 through 2011, there were too many days when I didn’t want to get out of bed, but I had to because other people needed me.

The best year I ever had selling real estate was 2012. Prices were up a little, and there was pent-up demand as the job market kept getting better. I know many agents who say that their businesses boomed during the recession. Mine didn’t. Like many of my neighbors, I didn’t always have enough work or money.

The first thing I did when the money started coming in again was pay off the house. At the time, I just couldn’t stomach the thought of having a mortgage. In fact, I still can’t. It took eight years to catch up on deferred maintenance on the house. Last fall, we reroofed, and in January, we finally got the last of the water damage from the leaky roof repaired.

During much of the last eight years, I focused on my parents, who passed away in 2018. There were other family members who needed help because of the recession, and I’m so thankful that I was able to provide them with some relief.

I was unable to work much during the first four months of 2018 because of a serious illness. Now, I’m a proud member of the group that faces a high risk of complications from COVID-19.

Our experiences are great teachers if we’re willing to learn. I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that there really isn’t a normal, just times in our lives when there are fewer changes, or maybe just times when things go smoother.

Holding onto how things used to be or how they might have been is a total waste of time. Trying to make real estate transactions work exactly the way they did a month ago is ridiculous.

Most people really don’t care about real estate right now unless it’s their own and is on the market or if they’re in the process of buying or selling real estate. Are real estate emergencies a thing that we need to stand by and be ready to help with during a planetary crisis?

The real estate industry isn’t like the local restaurants that are asking people to order food from them so that they can stay in business.

Does anyone really care if the local real estate company goes out of business? And if they do, is that even on people’s radars right now? Is anyone worried that there won’t be enough real estate agents or that having fewer real estate offices will change the fabric of our communities?

If there’s one thing I know for sure about the future it’s that it won’t be what I planned for — it almost never is.

When 9/11 happened, it started a chain of events that ultimately led to me losing my job and getting a real estate license. That was never a part of any of my plans, but I did it. For the most part, it worked out just fine.

The housing market crash wasn’t part of my plan either. I found some ways to make money that never would have occurred to me in better times, and it’s possible that I’ll need those sources of income again.

The future always arrives. The best way to be ready for it is to be able to let go of your plans. Make some new ones. Don’t waste valuable time and energy trying to make things work like they used to.

Maybe COVID-19 is our big wake-up call. Maybe now is the time to think about what is important in our lives and what isn’t. How much money do we really need? How hard should we work?

I see the current situation as an opportunity to pause and think about what I’m doing and what I want to do. There is no normal — new or old. We just need to work with what we have and forget about normality.

Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker/owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul. She is also the founder of StPaulRealEstateBlog.com.

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