Starting Real Estate for me was a reality check for sure. Straight out of university having been spending my time partying on my parents money with no real commitments, selling houses seemed like a great job – Viewing homes and driving around in my suit and nice car and writing up deals!
Although I received my reality check fairly early on (we all do eventually, trust me), mine was one that stayed with me and defined my career.
In those early days it became quickly apparent that we can be a source of great worth to our clients if we are prepared to work to a higher level of authority, information and transparency. But like all professions, there are those that will succeed at any cost because they choose a path that’s easier to walk.
This was the location of my first real estate job, in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, UK.
I was 22 years old and had been studying Animal Science with a focus on a future working in Veterinary Medicine.
How I ended up here all of a sudden working in real estate is a long story involving my husband and for which my kids think is completely radical and not like Mom at all! I remind them often I was once crazy, wild and young!
My first day I was told to go and buy a brief case and was given a hand held rape alarm (yes a rape alarm) and shown to an empty desk with a Rolodex – No computers. No cell phone. It wasn’t the best first day, to be sure, but it did feel exciting to be in amongst a team of feisty sales people, in the throws of all the chatter and money talk.
Now I was fortunate because I got a pretty prime spot, right at the front of the office – actually directly to the right of the front door you see in the picture – The seat still warm from the last sucker who didn’t make the grade and who got the proverbial boot from the job.
You see, at the time, in the UK, real estate agents were salaried and on commission – not just commission only. So if you didn’t make sales you didn’t last 5 minutes because you were costing the company money – It was the businesses way of thinning out the heard.
Sitting up front was a prime spot for agents because they had first dibs on new clients walking in – so I considered myself very lucky to have a front row seat.
The fact was the sleazy manager always put the ‘birds’ (an english slang term for females) up front. I was by no means special, I was just young, wore short skirts and had good legs. Remember 25 years ago, there were very few woman working in real estate!
I could write a whole book on my ‘first boss’ that would make Donald Trump look like Mother Teresa. He was the most chauvinistic bastard who glared at you over the top of his ‘buy on get one free’ metal rimmed glasses.
He made you come to his desk after every client meeting and tell him whether you got a sale or a listing and if not you had to explain why. But if you were lucky, and secured new business, you would get a check mark against your tally for that day! I was an absolute meat market of a sales environment.
But I digress…
A few months in, I was actually doing well and really enjoying the job and making money. I even managed to swing a new Nokia cell phone ;). I was securing deals, showing houses and even being trained to go on listing appointments.
But…I still hadn’t completed my office initiation. The day that became what I call my Real Shit Moment – the 16th December 1996.
It was decided by the guys in the office that my initiation was to appraise a property following an eviction – a REPO. In the words of my sleaze-ball boss, it was no big deal, the home would be empty, go in, take photos, take film to the 1-hour developing service, prepare the report and get it done.
Back in the good old days when you were being evicted from your home, the people present were the Bailiff with the eviction order, a Locksmith, to secure the property and an Estate Agent (real estate agent) to value the property based on the condition as left.
So, completely naive and eager to please I arrived at the house at the appointed time, chatted with the Bailiff who was outside, and, on his say so, went and sat in my little black Rover car and waited for him to go in and give us the all clear to enter.
The Bailiff was in for a shock because the owners who were being evicted made an attempt to stay put and as such the police and social services (child protection) were called and this family were eventually, forcibly removed.
Now, you’re probably wondering why this was such a defining moment in my career, People default on their mortgage and get evicted all the time. And that is true.
I was sent there to secure this repo listing that had been sold by my office to these same people using a back street lender – The extortionate interest rates financially crippled these people because they couldn’t qualify for a conventional mortgage – Ultimately, the transaction was all about securing a deal for the office regardless of any consequence.
The first lesson I learned from this story was that we are in a position of responsibility to guide people through the process of buying and selling. That incident would change how I structured my role and what would be the main motivator for how I practiced the business of Real Estate moving forward.
There were children in the house during this whole debacle. During the eviction and in all the turmoil and man-handling that ensued, a woman, who I assumed was their mother, desperately tried to smuggle out wrapped Christmas presents in the hope that the kids wouldn’t see and so, (what I presumed), the magic of Christmas wouldn’t be ruined.
The second lesson was that we don’t sell houses, we don’t buy houses, we serve those people buying and selling houses. The heart of our job is a very human transaction.
It was so profound for me because it wasn’t an empty house. I was dealing with real people, real emotions and real turmoil and there was I some snotty, inexperienced idiot, who had no real idea of what happens when the shit hits the fan and life throws you a curve ball.
There was a ‘HIGH 5’ in my office the day the authorization came in to list this property and the day I first heard the term ‘double bubble’ used to signify selling the same house twice.
I understand these people were adults, they should have known what they were getting into. They made the decision to sign those papers, to buy that house, to get in as deep as they did because like all of us, they thought they could swing it.
It was at that point that I decided this type of practice wasn’t for me. I certainly wasn’t responsible for what had happened, and certainly don’t feel Realtors® are to blame when financially (or otherwise) things go wrong for their clients. But I do feel we have an obligation to guide our clients and explain the pit falls if they choose to get in over their heads or buy when they are not ready.
We are working with people at a critically emotional time in their lives where all they can think about is their rose tinted future in their dream home.
We need to be there to catch them when emotions take over and remind them of the more practical elements of homeownership and that the realization of home ownership is far more serious than playing house.
That’s the difference between representation and good representation and it’s what any buyer should expect from their Realtor®.
A phrase I use when I talk to new agents or those I have mentored about service and serving the needs of the customer is this;
“Look after your clients and the commission will look after itself”.
There will always be people working in our profession (and in all professions) who’s only focus is the commission cheque, at any cost. Ultimately we don’t work for nothing, but almost 25 years in I’m still doing a job I love on my terms. It’s worth mentioning, that not one of those original Estate Agents in my first office still works in the Real Estate industry.
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