A Journey Through the World of Real Estate
AS AN AGENT, I have a front row seat to the world of real estate—front row to the joy, conflict and hardship that buyers and sellers endure on a daily basis. My partner, Doug, and I have been agents since 2004. We worked during the housing boom, and now we are witnessing the negative impacts of the housing crisis.
Doug and I became real estate agents as a result of an idea he put forth years ago about joining forces. As a contractor for more than 30 years, he had a vast knowledge of houses, and I had people skills and a background in customer service. Together, Doug felt we would make a great team, helping others with their real estate needs and allowing Doug to remove himself from the very physical world of construction. My first thought was “Sales? Gosh no!” But over time and with much discernment, I came to realize being a “sales agent” was not about sales, but about being a guide who helps people navigate and avoid the many emotional pitfalls of buying and selling a home.
One thing I’ve realized as an agent is how much people like us are needed. The housing boom and housing crisis taught us that buyers and sellers need agents who are spiritually grounded, conscientious, honest, and forthright with the information needed to make sound decisions. One of the downfalls of the housing boom, for instance, were agents who encouraged Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs). Doug and I never felt that clients who had plans to live in their new home for an extended period of time would benefit from ARMs, in which the mortgage payments increase dramatically, but the income levels do not. We knew this was a formula for trouble, which was why we didn’t suggest it to our clients. Another example of why spiritually grounded people are needed in our business is so we can help educate buyers about beneficial programs available to them. During our first year in the business, I found out about a county program that offered grant money for closing costs to first-time homebuyers. At first, I was upset that my agent didn’t share this with me when I had bought a home the year before—either because he didn’t know about it or because it would have delayed his commission. But my upset gave way to grace when I realized that this was exactly the type of thing I could help my clients with in the future.
As an agent, people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures touch my life. I do my best to help those that ask for it, and when I can’t help, I can at least listen.
One such situation was with a family from Jamaica. The mother of the household, Ester, was fearful for her teenage daughter’s welfare in the area where they lived. She wanted to sell and relocate to a different school district. Doug and I visited her in her home to gather financial information and share the comparable market analysis of her home. We determined that because of her debt and not having enough equity, there were very limited ways for her to proceed. Since she was so anxious to sell, some agents would have listed her house in order to make a commission, but we knew that could be outright disastrous for her. Even though it wouldn’t help her daughter attend school in a different district, Doug and I knew we had no choice but to give Ester the same advice we would want if we were in her shoes—a true picture of where she stood financially. We were rewarded when Ester invited us over for Sunday dinner to show her gratitude.
Since the collapse of the housing market and the woes in our economy, agents see hardship much too often for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s due to layoffs, or lenders’ unwillingness (or inability) to help homeowners restructure their mortgages, or sellers’ inability to accept offers as a short sale. Doug and I receive calls from people who purchased a home when times were good, when their jobs were in place, but now are struggling. Hearing these stories—unemployment, layoffs, illness—is hard because they involve such suffering and grief. Financial hardship that causes a family to lose their home is earth-shattering. Even though many agents don’t want to do the time-consuming work of listing a short sale, Doug and I do list homes that are fighting foreclosure. If we can sell a house as a short sale—which helps our clients settle some of the mortgage debt they face when they can no longer afford it—we know that it won’t be as bad a hit to the seller’s credit score as a foreclosure would be. We do not relish working in these situations, but if we are notified early enough, we become hopeful that we can help.
However, sometimes the situation arises when a sheriff’s sale or foreclosure is fast approaching on a house we’ve listed for short sale, and the bank is ready to take back ownership of the home. Our client asks us, “Where do we move to? We have no family who can take us in. We have no place to go.” Other than referring them to the overburdened social services, we do not have an answer to this question. We spend time listening to their hardships and sympathize, knowing that if we were in the situation, we’d want someone to listen to us. We do the best we can to help those who ask, even though we are powerless to make a buyer present an offer that will make the house sell.
Even though the suffering and hardship Doug and I have seen lately has outweighed the joyful encounters, we continue forward in the hopes that we are making a difference in the lives of those we touch. Spirit has always been my guide, and Spirit continues to gently whisper that my actions are needed, no matter how small, for those who may otherwise not receive the information and assistance they need. In my career and in my life, I want to aid people in making sound and healthy decisions, whether I’m dealing in real estate or beyond.