"So tell me what you do," I said to Sarah as we met outside of Peet's on Piedmont Avenue. Sarah and I are in a professional networking group together and these one-to-one sit downs are part of our homework, outside the regular Tuesday lunch meetings.
"I'm a trust and estates lawyer," Sarah said with a smile, her elderly dog on her lap, "I help people disperse their assets and plan their affairs."
"Do you enjoy your work?" I asked, imagining that she'd say 'not really,' like most of the attorneys I've met who, frankly, like the title, but hate the job.
"Yes, I do. I've really come to appreciate all the nuances . . ." she explained. "You know, every family has got a story to tell." (And mine more than most!)
When Cliff and I had our will drawn up a few years back, our attorney, had said much the same thing. Gigi spoke of people's estates like the pieces of a puzzle. She said that when a will is drafted correctly; when a strong trust is in place, these documents keep the deceased's intentions intact long after they are gone, and help to prevent a family from unraveling, or worse yet, fighting over the inheritance. (And I thought contract law would be boring. Don't worry boys, there's not much to fight over.)
In short, lawyers deal with the story of people's lives . . . no wonder both of these smart, young women find trust and estate law fascinating. Turns out, it is.
It's no surprise, that Realtors too, are dealing with the story of people's lives and why I think many of us are drawn to the profession. Strip away the pretty packages and we're not just selling homes, we're helping you to create your personal story, however that unfolds.
Is it a puzzle? (Absolutely.)
Thinking back over the last decade, I'm humbled by the confidences Buyers and Sellers have shared with me over the dining room table; each of them with their own specific set of motivations as to why a move, and why now. Some have considered it for years while others have been forced to make a change because of an unexpected life event. Still others, have come about a move almost accidentally; they weren't necessarily planning on it until the house up the street came to the market and serendipity stepped it. Some have great faith and trust in the journey, others have no choice but to jump, and others are trying to micromanage the outcome all the way to the end (btw - that almost never works).
Whatever the reason, there's a story to tell. . . and a Realtor's job is to honor it.
That's not always easy.
Not all stories have happy endings.
The reality is that even when we seek a move, there are few things in life as stressful as starting over somewhere new. It's a given that even under the best of circumstances, a move is going to be challenging and inconvenient not just for you, but for your loved ones as well. A move, creates change (!) and almost everyone struggles with change on some level, even when we invite it in willingly.
But all too frequently, a move is predicated by a death, divorce or a job transfer. These are stories too, and they are often accompanied by confusion, despondency, and paralysis, among many other unwelcome feelings. Unlike my new friend Sarah, who thoughtfully sets the stage before an unhappy event occurs,Real Estate Agents usually come in after circumstances have unfolded and then do our best to pick up the pieces and keep expectations in line with market realities.
But that's just the beginning. Selling a house in today's marketplace is nothing short of a MAJOR production and that's not always met with fondness and cheer. ("You want to do what!?!")
Moreover, because people buy and sell so infrequently, they're not particularly good at it, in spite of massive amounts of information at everyone's fingertips that might lead us to believe otherwise. Personally, I love the client who plainly states, "We have no idea what we're doing and are relying on you to get us through." (Thank you. That's what I'm here for.)
My moving concierge buddy, Amy, states it best: "a move is the physical manifestation of a life event that has already taken place."
She's right of course, and to be fair, many of the reasons we move are exceedingly joyful: a new baby, to be close to grandchildren, a career promotion, retirement, an exciting opportunity, an unexpected adventure, a bigger house, just to name a few. . . these are stories too, and they are happy ones - but they are still accompanied by the unknown (aka: fear) and that's where things get complicated. When human emotions come into play, they tend to threaten the course and complicate the outcome. (And we're all too human.)
So my role also includes guiding you through these stories, good or bad, expected or not, slowly or quickly, as we write this chapter together and face your fear head on. Believe me when I say that no matter what lies ahead, it will all resolve. (It always does.)
But remember, it's just one chapter; it's not the end (often it's the beginning). And while selling a house isn't rocket science (rocket science is rocket science), there's an art both in the selling and the buying that are hard to quantify, but critical to the process, and why the Realtor, and his or her team, are vitally important. Are they available? Are they responsive? Are they listening? Are they local? Are they collaborative? AND are they solution-based? (No one needs additional drama, and certainly NOT from your Realtor.)
In my experience, the happiest endings come about when we understand that discomfort is part of the process too, as we roll up our sleeves and get to work. Together, we'll make decisions that move you forward, even as I keep you from falling back (yep, that's part of the deal as well).
As to the different roles lawyers and Realtors play when it comes to your estate? We're each a piece of the puzzle, but our roles are clearly defined: Realtors sell real estate and lawyers organize it for what comes next. Together, we make a pretty good team. (Thanks for your time, Sarah!)
How can I help you?
Check out my Instagram at: piedmontrealtorgirl
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.