Friday, February 27, 2015

Serving People At Their Best And Most Broken

Sheri seemed happy and relaxed while she met the buyers of her home and we all gathered around the closing table, but as she began signing the opening closing statement, I noticed a wet droplet splattered on the paper near her pen, and then another and another. She froze mid-signature.

Her face was hidden by a sweep of blonde hair. I leaned near, put a hand on her shoulder and whispered, "You okay?"

She didn't look up, only shook her head side to side. The buyers, their Realtor, and the closing agent each looked on with concern from around the table. "Let's step outside for a minute,” I said. I looked to the others, "Can you give us a moment?"

In the hall Sheri leaned against the wall sobbing into her hands. I found an empty office down the hall where she could be alone, and a box of Kleenix. I'd known her and her newly-ex-husband for several years. This was the final symbol of the failure of their marriage – the selling of the house where they had made a home together. She’d been an emotional rock during every step of the process, until now. But who could blame her?

For the rest of that closing I shuttled papers from the closing room to Sheri so she could sign and grieve in privacy. When it was done I gave the buyers the keys to the house, told them when trash day was, bid them farewell and waited to make sure they were gone before I got Sheri and walked her to her car.

Moments like this in real estate make me thankful I took so many psychology classes in college. When I got a license 21 years ago I thought I’d simply help people buy and sell houses. It took a couple years before I realized I would be serving people at the most hopeful and some of the most broken moments of their lives. I've shepherded scores of people through foreclosures, relocations in and out of state, sold their homes and found them new ones during and after divorces, marriages, births of babies, job losses and deaths.

The biggest lesson I've learned: I'm not a salesman. That's not what I do.

Often, the most enjoyable transactions are with young couples in their 20s who can't quite believe they're actually old enough to buy a house. They’re giddy and hopeful but also young enough they half expect their parents to pop out from behind a doorway and stop this fantasy game of playing house. And for many young couples, closing on that first home is nearly as big a deal as their wedding. The marriage was their choice alone – hell, something even teenagers do, but a home purchase is the gateway to real adulthood, proof that they’re not only becoming a family, but that they were examined by the grown-up business world and found worthy of a loan.

Helping those struggling for a better life is also something you never forget.

A decade ago as I manned the front desk at our office, a 30-something woman came in and asked if I would help her find a house. Looking beleaguered but hopeful, she told me of sporadic child support checks, of late nights as a bartender, of a poorly maintained apartment and her two daughters who deserved a better life. We started where we always start, with the loan.

I took her across the hall to our in-house lender and quickly discovered that this bartender wasn’t claiming cash tips on her taxes and had little credit background to qualify her for a loan. The lender and I wrote out a list of things she would need to do in the next year to qualify to buy. She left defeated.

I checked in with her several times over the next few months, asking how things were going. She’d offer ho-hum answers, share successes and setbacks. Eventually, perhaps embarrassed that I'd become a second hand witness to her struggles, she ignored my calls and we lost touch.

About a year after that first visit the secretary called over the intercom to say I had a visitor in the lobby. There was the bartender, standing nervously by the door with a slip of paper in her hand. It was the to-do list the lender and I had jotted down for her. It was sun-faded from weeks and months on the dashboard of her car and there was a puckered coffee cup ring in the middle. What’s more, each line-item was struck through. Looking uncertain, she held the list out to me and said, "I did what you told me to do. Can I have a house now?"

The day we closed on that modest little house didn't do much for my bank account, but seeing the bartender and her daughters on the front steps of that house with the keys in hand made a big difference in my professional perspective. I realized I wasn’t a salesman and never have been. I don’t “sell” people. I’m successful, but I’m a Realtor who loses business on a regular basis to real estate sales people. I’m simply not a salesman. Instead, my job is to get people what they want.

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1 comment:

  1. This post, right here. this is what makes me proud to call you Brother.