"What tree is that?" I asked my dad. "That's peach, " he replied
How 'bout that one? I said.
"And those?" I asked.
"Apple," he responded, matter-of-factly.
Driving down Highway 5 in my dad's company-issued Impala, plaid thermos tucked cooly beside him, life seemed fairly uncomplicated to me at the time. My father was a good old-fashioned traveling salesman and his territory covered much of central and northern California. He left early Monday mornings and returned on Friday evenings - sometimes with surprise "swaps" he had made with other traveling salesman along the way.
You had to be in kindergarten to accompany him "on the road" and this summer, it was my turn. I'd spend the next five days in the sole company of my father while he restocked the empty shelves and took orders for future shipments in small town pharmacies and drug stores throughout the state. He worked for Breck and his "trade" was shampoo, conditioner and hair spray, but his real trade was a familiar greeting, a friendly smile and a confident manner. When I got very lucky, the manager would treat me to a soda at the ice cream counter or offer up a coloring book and crayons to take back to the motel. Once settled, my dad and I would take a reprieve from the oppressive valley heat in the kidney-shaped pool and he'd catch me as I hurtled down the slide and into his arms! (Good times.) Occasionally, I would try to trip up my dad by pointing to the more exotic crops whose rows seemed to literally "run" on long legs as the car sped past. How 'bout those? What are these? "Do you know that one?" I'd mischievously prod. "Broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes. . ." he'd answer in turn and give my knee a friendly squeeze that resulted in peels of laughter.
Having grown up in and around the rural areas of Davis at a time when agriculture was bigger business than the University, my dad learned early on the difference between a walnut tree and an almond. And he passed that knowledge on to each of his kids in turn on these highly anticipated road trips.
Which did me absolutely NO good at all in Arizona last week. Driving past a field on our way back to the Phoenix airport (having successfully dropped our elder son off at college for his freshman year - whoo hoo!) my husband pointed to an orchard and said, "What kind of trees are those? (And no, they weren't cacti although there's LOTS of cactus in Arizona.)
Quickly scanning the field, I could see that the branches were heavily weighed down, but was it a nut or a fruit? "It's too late for peaches or cherries and those aren't apple trees either. Citrus doesn't grow in the Southwest . . . hmmm . . . I'm stumped. I don't know that tree," I finally had to admit. Once in awhile, I run across a "tree" I don't recognize in Real Estate either. Many of us came to this profession well ahead of the sub-prime misstep and mortgage meltdown, thus we were forced to regroup and master new skills as the market shifted. Like my dad, we often responded with a familiar greeting, a friendly smile and a confident manner, while we quickly learned new strategies to cope with, and to adjust to, unwelcome realities in the marketplace. Along the way, we became better and more creative Realtors, as a whole.
Still, when prospective buyers call me and sincerely inquire as to whether of not I can help them find a "REO" (that's a "Real Estate Owned" property or a foreclosure as it is more commonly known) I refer them (without hesitation) to another agent in the field who recognizes and understands that "tree" a whole lot better than I do; knowing full well that the client is better served with another professional. The same is true for commercial purchases/leases, investment properties and short sales. Each of these disciplines can be a specialty in and of itself. One seasoned agent I know deals primarily in foreclosures and it isn't uncommon for him to carry as many as 40 listings at a time (40!) In very few cases, do these properties actually end up with the "end user" (the homeowner) as opposed to an investor whose strategy often involves a purchase on the courthouse steps and a fast flip! That's truly the needle in the haystack - and you'll need a specialist to find it.
I am also quick to refer the client whose geographical goal doesn't align with my area of expertise and knowledge. Need a house in Piedmont, Rockridge, Montclair, Albany or Berkeley? I'm your girl! Shopping in Alamo, Walnut Creek or San Francisco? Mmm, not so much.
At the risk of being a crabapple, please let me pear you with another agents who is more familiar with those specific communities and can better serve your needs. At the risk of cherry picking, I'd hate to unwittingly squash the deal because I'm unfamiliar with the landscape. Orange you glad I care? (Do I hear a collective groan?) The most successful agents at The GRUBB Co. have deliberately carved out well-defined niches where they easily dominate the field. Having smartly rejected the idea that "one can be all things to all people," they have instead, finely honed and tuned their craft to earn the title of "neighborhood specialist!" (Hey, that works for me.)
Sometimes, identifying the tree we don't recognize, is every bit as important as identifying the tree we do and I can state with absolute certainty that the outcome makes a difference to the buyer as well, in terms of getting a "plum" deal!
(I'm certain there's a produce pun in some of you. Send one back and I'll treat you to a lattee at Mulberry's Market!)
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.