I remember my first day as a working real estate agent like it was yesterday. Oh wait, it was yesterday. Well, not literally yesterday, but yes, I’m new to real estate, as are thousands of agents throughout the world each year. In fact, if you knock on five doors in my neighborhood, two of the people who answer will be agents, have been agents, or are thinking about becoming an agent. And when you tell people you’re a realtor, they think two things – one – you make a million dollars, and two – it’s easy. I can tell you that neither of these things is true, at least not for me…. yet. But, I didn’t go into real estate because I’m afraid of work or because I thought I would make a million dollars – I was a teacher in my former life, so for me it’s never been about easy and it’s sure as heck has never been about big bucks. What I really want out of this second career is to be able to work with and help people. And yes, it’s probably risky to tell people I’m new, but everybody’s new at some point, and I AM a hard worker, so I’m here to tell you, I’m worth the risk.
Anyway, back to my first day of working as an agent – that very first day I learned that real estate, like teaching, is sometimes different from what you expect … for instance, all my real estate friends told me that working the floor – that’s real estate speak for signing up to go into the office and take calls that come in during the hours that you’re on the floor – does not really help to get you very many “leads.” When I told my oldest daughter, who is also an agent, that I was working the floor for the first time, she asked how many hours I’d be there.
“Five,” I said.
“Ugh! That sounds terrible,” she said. “Take something to do.”
I thought about that. Should I take a craft project, I wondered. But, I figured I had plenty of real estate articles I could read, and I had an open house to plan for, so I just took my lunch and my laptop, that first Saturday, as I headed into the office.
I was the first person in the office at 8:50 that morning. Most agents work from home these days, and on Saturdays they’re usually showing houses or holding open houses, so I wasn’t surprised that the door to the office was still locked. Taking out my shiny new key, I let myself into the office for the very first time. Soon, I heard Yvonne, our receptionist, arrive. She bustled about, took some messages from the phone, and then walked back to ask if I was working the floor that morning.
“Yup,” I answered. “Let me know if you have anything for me.”
“Well, as a matter of fact, I do,” she said and handed me a paper with a man’s name and number and an address. This gentleman wants to know about this property,” she said, pointing to the address on the slip of paper.
“Ok,” I said, shocked into something akin to speechlessness, which if you know me, doesn’t happen very often. I hadn’t expected to get any calls, much less one at 9:00 in the morning. But I was on it. I looked up the property on the MLS and carefully practiced what I would say. The property had already closed. The guy had probably looked it up on Zillow, which is often behind the data curve. But I could offer to show him other properties. When I called, I didn’t actually get the client on the phone. Apparently, he had a crew and I got one of his crew members. When I explained who I was, the guy who’d answered said, “Oh, he’s out on the septic, let me see if I can get him.” And when I did finally talk to the client, he said, “Oh, ok … yeah, I’m working right now. Call me next week.”
So that was my first client encounter, and I was stoked! He had said I should call him back, and I actually had his name, phone number, and the kind of property he’d been interested in. I was going to call him the next week and we’d set up times to see other properties. Look at me, being a realtor, I thought. Then
I trotted dutifully into the front of the office to report to Yvonne, who held out a handwritten paper with about 12 more names, addresses and phone numbers.
“These all came off the pager,” Yvonne said. “Four of those people want to see that one house – it’s property managed.” This job was just one surprise after another, I thought. But I knew what I had to do, so I started looking up properties on the MLS and making phone calls. The property that was managed by our C21 management company was not really listed. It had, apparently, been on Zillow at one time, but then it was taken down (I already do not love Zillow), and it was a rental, but one gentleman on the list who had called about that property, still wanted to get into a rental in that area, and asked me to call him back on Tuesday. Another woman was out of town but was interested in seeing the house she’d called on when she got back into town next week. I mentally patted myself on the back. I was doing great, I thought. Look at all these leads I was getting. Of course, I was later to find out that most floor “leads” are nothing but time suckers – big black energy sinkholes.
But that day, I was feeling like the Superwoman of realtors, conquering client’s questions left and right and increasing my “sphere of influence” by legions. I was going to be legendary. So, as I wound down to the end of the list, that Saturday, I came to a gentleman who had called to see a house that had a contract but was accepting backups. He’d probably pulled it off Zillow, too, I figured, but undaunted, I called his number and the phone rang and rang, until finally a man answered. I could tell he was older by his wispy voice, words fading breathily at the end.
“Mr. Neilson,” I said.
“I can’t hear you … just a minute.” I heard a thud, like a phone with an old fashioned receiver hitting the floor. The phone went dead. I started to dial the number again, when my phone rang. It was Mr. Neilson.
“This is Kathleen Tolar from Century 21 Arizona Foothills,” I said. “You called about a property on Vineyard?”
“I did?” he said. “That must have been a long time ago. I don’t remember.”
“Well, sir, “ I said, “that house has a contract on it, but I am happy to show you other properties in that neighborhood.”
“So it has a contract on it?”
“Yes, sir, they’re accepting backups, but unless you’re really interested, you probably don’t want to go to the trouble of visiting that house.”
“Oh… I think it was a nice house.”
“Yes,” I said, “the pictures are very nice. It was listed for $225,800, is that the price range that you’re looking in?”
“No… I’m not looking anymore,” he said. “I’m done looking. I’m going to be ninety and I fell. I hurt myself.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said. “Have you been to a doctor?”
“Yes, but I’m not going to get better. I’m done. I’m just going to be done. I’m too old to get better.” His voice trailed off. What should I say? I could imagine him alone in his house, maybe without family to call. I thought of my own father, who is quite elderly, and what I might say to him if he felt this way. But how should I respond to this man whom I had never even met?
“I’m sorry,” I said again. “I hope you feel better. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do.” But even as the platitudes spilled from my lips, I knew there wasn’t anything I could do. “I’ll be thinking of you,” I said.
“Thank you,” he said.
That was when I realized there’d be things about being a realtor that they just hadn’t covered in real estate school.