Vol. 241, Storytelling
" . . . So um, wouldn't you know, of course I got a bunch more stitches, this time above my eye . . . then I went to my cousin's house and um, I tried to be a secret ninja warrior and BAM, another trip to the emergency room, another hospital, a cast on my arm, and a bunch more stitches . . . Um, my Doctor said to me, 'We have a very special relationship, kid . . .' So then I went back to school and then they didn't want to even let me on the playground . . ." "The end," I thought. It's not that I wasn't admiring this young camper's determination to get up in front of his peers and participate in the storytelling portion of the evening at Camp Augusta, it's just that his tale of woe should have ended about five minutes earlier and unfortunately, he'd come on the heels of several other very long stories. (The end.) He'd had some good laughs, a poignant memory or two (or three, or four) and more than a few probable punch lines. (The end!) But he had failed to recognize "the ending" to his amusing story and was now milking the indulgent crowd for far too long, until the restless audience politely clapped him off stage and, at long last, he finally exited. The end. (Camp counselors are very special and very patient people.)
I was a weekend guest at Camp Augusta, along with another member of the Board. We'd been invited to see the camp in action and "storytelling" was the assigned activity for the evening. Sadly for our children's generation, storytelling is an art form that's practically all but lost to Twitter and texting, so you gotta root for anyone with the nerve to string more than just a few sentences together (and in front of a live audience no less)! This loquacious and pedantic child definitely had guts (and a future as a politician I suppose). Still, there are some basic rules to public speaking that even young, enthusiastic campers (Um, make that everyone) should take heed and follow . . . .
"If you can't be funny, be brief," my husband pragmatically advises, having practiced in front of large groups of critical defense attorneys dozens of times all over the country (which is clearly no comedy gig). "Better yet, be both funny AND brief!" (Which explains why I write short essays, and not lengthy novels.) And even though he's no Dr. Phil, brevity with respect to public speaking, is a good rule of thumb to follow - no matter what your age. My boss, DJ, calls this the "elevator speech." Everyone has (or should have) the short story that clearly defines who they are in a few colorful sentences; the one you could literally deliver between floors while on an elevator if pressed. "So what do you do?" (Yes, I know human beings are more complicated than that, but for purposes of my "story," try to play along). So too, do houses . . .
All Realtors in essence, are storytellers. Whether composing a 30-word ad for the newspapers, or weaving stories at the Sunday Open about the property, the neighborhood, and the community, a gifted agent is typically selling more than just a house - they're selling a dream! (Call me corny, but it's true - "home ownership" remains the quintessential American Dream.) Thus, we need to convey more than just the bedroom and bathroom count when describing a home AND we need to speak to more than just the price. Because our interactions with Buyers and Sellers are often very brief, we need to get your attention and we need to do it quickly. And if we can bring some levity to the transaction and have a few laughs along the way, so much the better. (The end.)
"Dramatic, Mid-Century Modern with San Francisco Bay views" says something completely different than: "Historic Victorian with coveted central location" or than: "Diamond in the rough with original period details." (Sometimes I am tempted to write in "naughty pine" instead of "knotty pine" just to see if you're paying attention.) Each of these descriptions brings a completely different home to mind and that's my point. If we add: "near schools, parks, playing fields and the community pool," we start to fill in the background in a very different way than: "lush, expansive rural grounds and garden" OR: "urban oasis near restaurants, shops and BART." Get the picture? Good.
But if there's a longer story to tell, it's in the letters the Buyers write to the Sellers about how they envision their lives in the home and how much they love it, OR in the letters the Sellers write to the next owner about their Fourth of July celebrations, their daughter's garden wedding, or their children's birthday parties. Not that stitches and broken arms aren't dramatic stories to tell (they are) but it's the "slice-of- life" moments that cut straight to one's heart and prove to be the most compelling.
As your Realtor, it's my privilege to be the steward of your memories, and the witness to your hopes and desires. And when I get your stories just right, I also get to help you live out your dreams. Now that's a story worth telling.
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Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 18 years and has published more than 670 essays on life and real estate.