As Jay Thompson and his wife battened down the hatches for Hurricane Hanna, he realized the striking similarities between the tropical storm and the real estate transaction.

Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent 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.

Twenty-nine days after my wife and I closed on a home on the Texas Gulf Coast, Hurricane Hanna made landfall sixty miles south of our new home. Welcome to the madness of the year 2020!

We knew going into this move that hurricanes were a possibility. Just three years ago our little slice of paradise was devastated by a direct hit from Hurricane Harvey, which did $125 billion in damage. 

Watching the weather reports as Hanna approached was more than a wee bit anxiety producing. Three days before landfall, every weather service had Tropical Storm Hanna practically passing straight over our new home with 50 mph winds.

Flooding from heavy rainfall was expected to be the biggest issue. Despite living literally 8 feet above the water level in the canal that is our backyard, the odds of our home flooding were quite low. Our wonderful new neighbors, far more experienced with tropical storms than we are, assured us we would be just fine.

“Clear your dock, bring the patio furniture inside and lower your hurricane shutters” was the advice we were given, always ending with a “everything will be fine.”

Then, the forecast changed. Hanna was now expected to strengthen into a minimal Category 1 hurricane, but fortunately (for us), it looked like it would turn south before impact.

Sure enough, when we woke up Saturday morning, Tropical Storm Hanna was now Hurricane Hanna. The expected southern turn still hadn’t occurred. A few hours later, the wind forecast went from 75 mph to 90 mph. The turn south began, but Hanna was still strengthening, some forecasts had it moving to a Category 2 storm. Others thought it would hit the coast and rapidly die off. Things were a bit chaotic.

As the skies grew darker, and the wind and rain picked up, I looked at my wife and said, “You know what? This thing is just like real estate.”  

Having received more than my fair share of the “what the hell are you talking about” look from my bride, I explained my analogy.

Overload of available information 

Google terms like “hurricane,” “how to prepare for a hurricane” and “predicting hurricanes,” and you will be presented with more information than you can possibly consume in a lifetime. Not so shockingly, some of this information contradicts itself. Some seems quite legit, but further investigation shows the source is really a crackpot. You even have known and respected sources like the National Weather Service and National Hurricane Center in direct conflict with each other. 

Just like real estate has an unending supply of information, some quite good, some set forth by crackpots, some conflicting. This holds true whether you are a buyer or seller of real estate, or in the business of helping those buyers and sellers.

Sometimes it’s hard to sift through the noise and confusion of weather reports and real estate. 

The astute agent realizes this, and helps support and de-confuse their client. Trust me, even if not outwardly displayed, your clients are often confused and in need of your support. Heck, I was confused during my home purchase, and I sold real estate and ran a brokerage. You think the average buyer or seller isn’t confused?  

Unpredictable and uncontrollable circumstances

As Hanna approached, the unpredictability of forecasting hurricane behavior became quite apparent. It will turn south. No, it won’t. It’s a low-grade Category 1. No, it may build to a Category 2. Expect 4-6 inches of rain. Make that 10-15. Storm surge in the 2- to 4-foot range. Or is it 5-6 feet? Wait, 10 feet? But my house is 8 feet above sea level.

Some of the smartest minds on the planet using some of the strongest super computers are analyzing reams of data trying to predict what will happen with this storm.

Sound familiar? COVID-19 will implode the market. No, buyer demand is high — people want to move out of the city. Mortgage rates will go below 3 percent. Never mind, mortgage rates are creeping above 3 percent.

As Hanna bore down on us (it did eventually shift south, sparing us a direct hit) we swiftly realized that we had zero control over what people forecast or what Hanna would do. Just like you nor your clients can control mortgage rates, the agent and consumer on the other side or a myriad of things that can happen.

We have lots of expensive insurance to cover storm damage. To your clients, you are their “insurance.” They expect to smooth the process. Our wonderful agent helped us, just as you can help your clients.

Stress and anxiety

All the info that poured in as we tried to figure out what was happening with the storm, the unpredictability, and the inability to have control over all the variables made for some stress and anxiety.

You know what else is super-stressful and makes people want to eat Xanax like M&M’s? Buying or selling a home.

No matter how good an agent is, their client will be stressed and anxious at more than one point in the process. Be cognizant of that. A big part of your job is talking your clients off the ledge. You’re not just an agent, you’re also a therapist of sorts.

Communication, reassurance and preparedness

Saturday evening, when the storm was at its peak, my wife and I sat in the flickering lights listening to the wind howl and buckets of rain drumming on the storm shutters. We were oddly at peace. We had done our research (frustrating as that was at times).

Our very experienced neighbors reassured us more than once, and we were prepared for the worst. Fortunately, the worst never came. Other than electric boat lift motors shorting out from being submerged in the storm surge, our home suffered no damage. Just like we made it through the sometimes arduous buying process, we had weathered our first hurricane.

So you see, a hurricane really is like real estate. As a real estate consumer, you have to educate yourself, hire a great agent and be prepared. As a real estate agent, you need to educate and de-confuse your clients, communicate constantly, reassure your clients, and be prepared for all sorts of issues, actions and contingencies. 

I honestly don’t think I’ll ever buy another home. I’m sure we will go through more tropical storms and hurricanes. I suspect that one day we will be the experienced neighbor, helping educate and reassure a hurricane newbie. I know that you will be the one to help educate and reassure your clients, be they young or old, first-time buyers or seasoned investors.      

Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree living in the Texas Coastal Bend, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.

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