April 2018 marked my 14th year in residential real estate. Thinking back to my first season in 2004, I have a visual of myself with a St. Louis street guide plotting every turn for a Saturday afternoon buyer tour. So much has changed since then. Now, the MLS has a mapping feature built right in. In fact, technology has changed most of the logistics of real estate from planning the tour, to inspecting the home, to signing the closing docs. GPS software makes routing tours easy. Digital supra boxes protect house keys and log all foot traffic going through a home. Online syndication means we can market a home WORLDWIDE. The same syndication has created transparency in the market and information abounds. Inspectors can actually take a video of your sewer later and chimney flu. E-signature software allows clients to sign contracts from vacation or while they are in the hospital delivery room (true story). But outside of the incessant technological progression, there are some fundamentals I have learned over the last 14 years that remain unchanged. These are the 14 things that I wished someone had told me on my first day.
14 Lessons Learned from 14 years in real estate
- Contrary to popular belief, a love of architecture will not sustain your interest in this career. Houses are the commodity. The career is about PEOPLE. If you do not have a love of or a at least a deep fascination with the pile of inconsistencies called humanity, you will not last in this business.
- Make sure the water is on to the building before using the facilities: enough said. And really, you should only have to learn that lesson once.
- The post office got the cool motto: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night….” but this is the expectation for agents too. So, you will need a powerful flashlight, a good pair of boots, and a rain coat.
- When planning a long day of home tours, schedule time for snacks. No one can make an informed decision on an empty stomach.
- Personal boundaries are important but sometimes you need to take the 10PM phone call.
- Always keep the key with you while showing the house. This will prevent you from getting locked in the backyard.
- Information is not knowledge. Your clients have more real estate information than ever before in history. But translating that information into knowledge can only be done with experience and perspective.
- Negotiation is not confrontation. It is a process of discovery. At the end of the negotiation period you will discover whether or not you can come to an agreement.
- You must commit yourself to lifelong learning. There is no end to what you DO NOT know.
We never stop learning, because life never stops teaching.
- Relationships are infinitely more valuable than list prices.
- If the homeowner has Rhodesian Ridgebacks, always wear tennis shoes when showing the property because those canines are quick. It is, of course, best if you do not let them escape house and yard in the first place.
- Homeownership is not for everyone. It may take over a year, 82 home viewings and four failed contracts for your client to realize that he would be better off renting. It would be better for everyone to have a caring and candid conversation early on.
- Real estate is a team sport. Between the agents, the cooperating brokerages, the lender, the underwriter, the appraiser, the title company, the title company’s underwriter, the inspector(s), the insurance agent and the contractors called in for repairs, it is possible that 50 or more people could have a hand in one file. As an agent, you don’t need to be able to do all of those jobs. But you do need to be able to explain the role of each person in the transaction and do your part to provide the information they need to get their job done.
- Manage expectations to the best of your ability and allow the process to clarify the rest. As an example, the inspection negotiation phase used to cause panic for me and my clients. On day 10 the buyer’s agent would deliver the 30+ page report to me along with a laundry list of repair requests ranging from $2 fixes to $28,000 overhauls (hail damage on the roof, broken heat exchanger in the furnace, cracked sewer line). I would forward that to the seller and wait for the phone call which inevitably began with 20 minutes of cursing and ranting. Frankly, as a new agent with no network of contractors and very little home maintenance experience myself, I was no help. These days, the inspection negotiation phase is much different. I begin talking with the homeowner about the inspection process at our initial walk through. We talk about the condition of the home as they fill out the seller’s disclosure. If I spot an issue at the walk through, we start getting bids immediately. We discuss the inspection negotiation process ahead of time. They know that buyer will be delivering a “wish list” of items and that we will work through the process outlined in the contract to negotiate and discover what is truly important and what is not.
14 Years Ago and Now
14 years ago I had no idea (not a clue, ZERO-ZILCH-NADA) what I was doing. I barely understood the job. And I certainly never thought I would still be doing it 14 years later and have a team. But here I am, fully confident that we can handle anything that comes our way. We’ve become, by a process of trial and error, real estate — refined. My experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly) over the last 14 years are your gain. Contact me if you’d like that experience working for you.