I love, love LOVE watching "Top Chef," the reality series based on some of America's best young chefs competing in quick-fire and elimination challenges under nerve-wracking time restraints and incredibly difficult circumstances.
Now in its 20th season, I've watched literally countless episodes of not only "Top Chef," but "Iron Chef," "The Great British Baking Show," "Diners, Drive-ins & Dives," and recently "Top Chef Masters." For whatever reason, if people are cooking, I'm eager to watch.
Has my appreciation for other people's culinary expertise in the kitchen made me a better home cook?
No, it has not. I've yet to make foie gras, liver pate, or sweetbreads. I don't know how to sous vide a chicken, shuck an oyster, or prepare sea urchins (nor do I ever intend to).
The same could be said for the many Real Estate Programs that proliferate our airwaves. Whether it's "Selling Sunset," "Million Dollar Listing" or some other home improvement program that specializes in flipping houses, watching these "reality" shows (while no doubt entertaining) imparts very little practical knowledge that makes Homebuyers or Sellers better prepared in their local marketplace, and tends to make these "reality stars" turn into ill-mannered morons. "Million Dollar Listing" represents the ethical business of real estate about as much as "Real Housewives" represents the skill of homemaking.
1) To begin with, real estate IS highly localized. What's happening in Malibu, Chicago, Miami Beach, or New York City has little to NO bearing on what's transpiring here in the East Bay. In fact, what happens in Oakland may be vastly different than what's taking place in nearby LaMorinda, San Francisco, or Marin.
2) Realtors rely on written contracts, counter offers and addendums to transact business. In short, we're required to put things in writing. The idea that we "weal and deal" and twist arms on the phone is just short of preposterous. Realtors® often communicate with one another via phone or text, but we rely heavily on signatures to reach to legally ratify a contract. As our risk manager repeatedly warns us: "If it's not in writing, it doesn't exist."
3) Realtors® don't put their needs ahead of their clients'. The deal isn't between Agents and clients, or Brokerages and clients (or the camera and the Agent); it's between Sellers and Buyers. We present, we guide, we inform and we educate, but we don't presume to make assumptions for either side. Realtors® are highly-trained third-party negotiators with a fiduciary responsibility to our individual parties.
4) Good Agents rarely, if ever, make the deal adversarial. Selling a house shouldn't be a win/lose situation under any circumstances. Transacting real estate isn't a court of law with opposing sides. In fact, both parties essentially want the same thing: to seamlessly transfer ownership of property. Doing so with respect for one another makes for a more productive and less dramatic process all the way round. In other words, "ego" has no place in the deal - whether it's the client's or the Realtor's - nor does bad behavior.
5) We don't splash our commissions across the Internet, speed through town in Maseratis, or act like dilettantes. Every Agent I know is first and foremost, a hard-working laborer, participating in a complicated backdrop of moving parts which includes grabbing a broom and a dustpan just ahead of the photographer. If it looks easy, it isn't. In addition to negotiating high-net transactions, you'll also find us cleaning, planting, wallpapering, watering, baking, shopping, and doing whatever it takes to present a property in its best light. Although we work in a highly creative field, it's hardly a glamorous job. If you're not into rolling up your sleeves and doing the dirty work, real estate isn't for you.
So watch whatever ridiculous/entertaining/titillating show floats your boat, but understand that "reality" television bears no resemblance to reality. If you want to understand the true mechanics and nuances of real estate, ask your Agent. (That's what you're paying them for.) We're happy to impart the knowledge we've gained through years in the trenches, one deal at a time.
And on that note, I'm headed to the kitchen to make chocolate-chip cookies for Sunday's Open House (I've mastered that task). I'll leave the foie gras to the talented Top Chefs, and make a reservation at a restaurant if it's fine dining I crave.
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Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 18 years and has published more than 750 humorous but always informative, essays on life and real estate.