Robert G., Contributor

I see Robert G. most weekday mornings about 6:00 o'clock on my way to the downtown Y. His spot is at the top of the southbound I-40/65 exit ramp at Church Street.

I buy The Contributor from him every time there’s a new edition.

Robert is cheerful, witty, and thoughtful/philosophical about all sorts of topics. He has a surprising, rather professorial, vocabulary and occasionally writes little poetic nuggets they publish in the paper.

He makes me smile every time I see him. Sometimes we laugh out loud. Robert is a gas!

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So what does this have to do with real estate?

Real estate has to do with having a place to live
Anyone who sells The Contributor is homeless, or has been homeless at some point. Robert is no longer homeless. He lives in a boarding house and he is grateful for that. As I work on deals with my clients, and with agents and clients on the other side, I sometimes have to remind myself how good it is to have a place to live – even if it isn’t the perfect place.

And it has to do with the value of work
I was struck the first time Robert mentioned “my customers” when we were chatting. He made it clear to me that I am not simply giving him a handout. This is his job and he and I are business friends. He works hard – try standing at the top of an Interstate ramp in all sorts of weather for several hours, five days a week. If he can work hard at his job, so can I. Work brings dignity.

And it has to do with commitment
Robert is consistent. Barring an occasional visit to his daughter in Mississippi, or a bad cold, or a blizzard, Robert is there every morning, rain or shine, hot or cold. If he can show up for his customers, so can I.

And it has to do with gratitude
Robert is grateful that he has a place to live, and he’s grateful for his customers – especially the ones who stop to chat. I’m grateful that he’s there every morning. He reminds me to be grateful for everything I have. Like a place to live. Like my totally swell clients – not a rotten apple in the whole barrel so far – and the competent realtors I’ve worked deals with. Like the fact that I have the best job in the whole world.

Going the Last Mile

We start. But we don’t always finish.

I’m as guilty as anyone I know. Start something and then  … I get bogged down, lose focus, get distracted by the next bright object, get bored … don’t finish the thing I started. I can run into the ditch with just about any project at all.

This is why, when I want to really get something done, or continue indefinitely with a good-life project, I recruit accountability partners. People who will help me stay focused and actually get the job done.

 It’s as true of real estate as it is in the rest of life. My friend, Anna, reminded me of this recently. We were chatting – about real estate, of course, because I’m always chatting about real estate – and she said “You need a realtor to carry you through that last mile to closing.” Anna is so smart!

And she’s right.

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Anybody can find a house these days. When my son William was looking for his first house three years ago, I didn‘t have to look at all. I get up early. He goes to bed late. So, every morning I’d get up to find listings in my inbox he had sent me (very) late the night before.

The realtor’s major value kicks in once a contract is in place. Keeping the process moving along through inspections, subsequent negotiations, re-inspections, securing financing, title search weirdness, unexpected, uncooperative behavior from the seller… Things can go sideways in a million ways. Always good to have an advocate with you to go that last mile and finish the deal.

While marketing a listing still takes a good bit of work – helping set the price and get the house ready to show, photos, fliers, open houses, email blasts – as with buying, the realtor’s value comes into play once there’s a contract in place. The same hazards on the way to close apply.

And, when you’re in a real estate deal, not going that final mile to a closed deal is usually more serious than not showing up at the gym and gaining a few pounds. Or never finishing that cake-decorating course and consequently failing to become the next Martha Stewart. At the very least, you could fail to get the house you want. At worst it could involve tons of money lost and/or legal unpleasantness.

So, if you’re thinking of going it alone, re-think. A good realtor will take you all the way, through that last mile, to the close.

And, in case you were wondering, I’m a pretty good realtor. So call. We’ll talk …


Class Reunion

Looking at 50 years, and as always, thinking about real estate …

I’m just back from Atlanta and my 50-year high school reunion. I remain shocked that I’m actually as old as I am, but aside from that, it was an excellent weekend. And there was a big insight … Life is now! 

Nothing I didn’t already know, but the weekend really drove it home. Time changes everything. And nothing. 

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I and my classmates are heavier, grayer, more wrinkled, and less steady on our pins, but we are still “us”. The nice kids are still nice, some of the snooty ones, still snooty. And some of the snooty ones turned into nice people – likely what they were all along, just paralyzed by adolescent angst. We were pretty smart, and we stayed smart. At the party, despite a good bit of drinking – can you blame us? – there were substantive conversations aplenty. I’m impressed by how we have deepened and matured. Despite many of us beginning retirement, as a group we remain interested and engaged. 
 
The conversation did veer into nostalgia here and there, but it stayed amazingly current. We talked to each other about now. “What’s up these days?” “What’s your next step?” “What are you reading?” “What are your kids doing?” 
 
So, does this apply to real estate? Of course! There’s always a connection …
 
If life is about the present, so is residential real estate. 
 
Buyers can get derailed by the past, obsessing over what a seller paid for a property, assuming they are getting hosed if the seller paid a lot less than the asking price. Totally beside the point. That was then, now is now. 
 
I’ve seen buyers get derailed by the future, too, with toop much focus on potential appreciation. If you are buying a primary residence, and plan to stay more than a couple of years, appreciation is a secondary consideration. 
 
And there’s age. There’s usually absolutely nothing wrong with new construction, but sometimes older is just as good – or better. With appropriate care, a good house is a good house, despite its age. It may need updates (no question there’s been a facelift or two among my classmates) but if the fundamentals are sound, the house is sound. And character can accumulate with the years (again, witness me and my classmates).
 
As with the rest of life, a real estate deal is much more pleasant, and usually more effective, if done in the present. If you like a house, and it meets your current needs, and it looks like it might do for a few more years, and you can afford it –

Buy it!
Live in it!
Love it! 

Life Lesson from Midtown Manhattan

It really is about service.
 
Recently, I was in New York helping a friend celebrate a milestone birthday. The birthday boy hosted a group of us for dinner at Le Bernardin, a Michelin 3-star restaurant that perennially lands on top 10 lists. We had a wonderful time! If not the best restaurant experience I’ve ever had, it was among the best two or three. 
 
The room is beautiful, and the food was beyond merely delicious. That’s all good, but the factor that put the experience over the top was … the service.

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From the moment we set foot in the door to the moment we left, we were treated with the quiet warmth you reserve for a good friend – one you haven’t seen in a while and are delighted to see again. Everything was low-key, relaxed, and quietly fun. We couldn’t ask a dumb question. We couldn’t make a mistake. We were eating frightfully expensive food, using art-quality dishes and flatware and starched white linens in a totally luxurious setting, and yet it was … relaxing. 
 
And it was a lesson. Not the first time I’ve had it, but reinforcement always helps.
 
When I landed at Village 4+ years ago with my brand-new real estate license, I trained – as we all did – with our broker, the fabulous Bobbie Noreen. She insisted that real estate is a “helping profession” not unlike nursing or social work. It’s all about service to others.
 
In that moment, I was skeptical. But over time, it has proved true again and again. The properties that are bought and sold as I do my work are, of course, of central importance. But if the service that wraps around the transaction isn’t first rate, the luster of the property itself is dimmed. If Le Bernardin had been noisy, or uncomfortable, or if the staff had been snooty or sloppy, paying several hundred dollars a person for dinner would have been a miserable experience – no matter how good the food was. 
 
As it was, we floated out to the taxi on a cloud of bliss, remarking that we’d like to eat like that every day for the rest of our lives. In fact, if I could be taken care of in the style of Le Bernardin every day, I’d eat McDonalds and be happy. 
 
So, a lesson – for me, and for you, and for everybody in the world: give the client, or anyone else you run into, the best experience you can. Treat them as you would a good friend. Not only is it good for business (you’d better believe I’m going to save up a few coins and return to Le Bernardin) it’s good for the whole planet. 
 
Bliss begets bliss.