On Wednesday evening, I was invited to a book launch and a seminar on finding the "sweet spot," given by local author Christine Carter, PH.D., sociologist and happiness expert.
Now there's a woman with an admirable gift; counseling others on achieving a "happy" life. Truly, I can't imagine a better gig. And the best part is that "happiness" is best achieved by being outwardly directed and of service to others.
How great is that? (Just like our mothers taught us.)
In other words, when we strive for meaning and purpose, instead of happiness, we're more likely to achieve real joy. (New shoes or a great hand bag can make you happy momentarily, but it's not going to last.) In the end, our value lies in what we contribute to others. (Of course it does.)
Isn't it appropriate then that I not only love my job, but that I truly believe my work helps others move closer to their dreams? When it comes to the world of Real Estate, I'm combining both my passion and my strengths, which means (according to Christine) that I am not only working within my "sweet spot," but actually EXPANDING it. (SWEET!)
Not surprisingly, finding "happiness" is much easier said than done. Not only is "happiness" a subjective objective, but it's a moving target as well. Moreover, in a run-away marketplace, there's bound to be expectations that aren't easily met. And in my experience it's those pesky "expectations" that often lead us into deep and troubling waters where we can be anything BUT happy.
So let's talk about expectations that are, in fact, realistic - and those that are not . . .
It's fair to expect your agent to be knowledgeable, diligent, understanding, prepared, willing, and engaged.
It's fair to expect that your house will be "market-ready" and fully exposed to the marketplace via the MLS, mailings, newspapers, and Internet advertising.
It's fair to expect your agent will refer you to carpenters, inspectors, gardeners, window washers, handymen, title officers, etc., etc., etc. and to coordinate these vendors. "Full" service is just that.
It's fair to expect your agent to consult with you on your home (within reason). I'm NOT trained to give anyone an opinion on the health of a home's foundation (nor would you want me to) but I am happy to talk to you about the color on your walls, the plantings in your garden, and the curb appeal out front (or lack thereof).
It's fair to expect your agent to educate you as to the current marketplace, apprising you of any changes as they occur. Keep in mind, this may include telling you that your house isn't worth as much as you may have thought, OR that you'll need to be more aggressive with your offers in order to get a house. Having the difficult conversations is part of our job description as well.
It's fair to expect your agent to keep open and ongoing communication with you throughout the transaction and to work with a fair amount of transparency. (I always create a calendar and a road map for my clients.) You don't need to know every little detail obviously, but selling a house isn't a covert operation. You shouldn't feel "lost in translation."
It's fair to expect returned phone calls and prompt replies, but not to expect that Realtors are on call 24/7. "Balance" at both work and home make us more productive in our professions, not less.
It's fair to ask for an explanation of the contract and associated documents/disclosures. (You really should know what you are signing before you sign it.) Granted. there's a TON of paperwork to get through and much of it is boiler-plated, but do take the time you need to feel comfortable with what you are signing.
It's fair to tell your agent the truth about what you need and what you want in the moment. Under the BEST of circumstances, selling a home is a highly stressful situation. Add divorce, death, job transfer, marriage, child birth, and the unknown, and the stress is exponentially greater. Speak up; we invite your contributions and we WANT to help.
It's fair to expect your agent to advocate on your behalf. Let's be blunt; the Internet has transferred the responsibility of the search from our hands to yours, but negotiating, advocating, and guiding you through the escrow process remains the function of your REALTOR. Frankly, it's where the rubber meets the road. Good agents earn their keep and bring much needed clarity to the process.
On the flip side . . .
It's not fair to expect your agent to read your mind. Although we are known to prognosticate, we really aren't fortune tellers, nor can we see the future. In many instances, we're often working on gut instinct and past experience.
It's not fair to expect an unrealistic outcome on either the buy or sell side. Clearly, agents don't control the "market value" of a home; no matter the economic conditions, a willing and able Buyer sets the selling price. We neither command what a house will ultimately fetch, nor how many offers will be in play (although we'd love that kind of power).
It's not fair to expect your agent to act as your housekeeper, gardener, stager, window washer, dog walker, moving man, handyman or maintenance woman. Although admittedly, I DO pack a broom and a dustpan and have been known to vacuum at my listings. (That's not the norm BTW, but good agents, like good Boy Scouts, are always 'prepared.')
It's not fair to blame your agent for bad weather. We don't control the rain (although I wish we did). Rain is unfortunate but once the advertisement is in place, it's tough to change course. That's what booties are for.
It's not fair to blame your Agent for the failings or defects of a house. ALL homes (new or old) require ongoing maintenance and updating and some of these repairs are downright expensive. There is definitely a cost to home ownership beyond the purchase AND every house is bound to hold some unwelcome surprises, no matter how diligently we inspect. If the risk isn't for you, rent.
It's not fair to expect your agent to act as your lawyer, contractor, roofer, engineer or home inspector. Yes, I can tell you that I feel settlement in the floors, but beyond that, my license limits me to advising you about the transfer of REAL ESTATE alone. In fact, we could both run into real trouble if I took on those roles and overstepped my boundaries, or my knowledge.
It's not fair to expect your agent to dictate the behavior of other parties involved in the transaction. We can lead by example and negotiate with integrity, but we don't control the poor behavior of other folk. The best course of action in such cases is to always take the high road. (Sorry, but it is. Don't get down in the mud with those who don't play fair.)
In the end, if we are well prepared and set realistic expectations, there will be little to be upset about once the unexpected begins to appear (and it always does). While we can't necessarily plan for everything, we certainly can control our intentions and our corresponding actions so that they better align with the intended goals.
Remember, you're not doing this alone; I'm here to help and that's bound to make us both much "happier." Let's find the "sweet spot" together!
How can I help you?
(P.S. -You can follow my ongoing renovation on my new Blog: Renovation Riptide. I invite your comments and stories. )
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.