Weathering the Storm

Spring is on its way, a welcome change after a brisk Chicago winter. Bulbs are starting to sprout, buds are on the trees, and nature’s marvelous rebirth is right around the corner. Historically, spring is also that time of year when our real estate market comes alive, often with vigor. In years past, my residential real estate sales team and I averaged approximately 40% of our total year’s sales during Chicago’s “spring market.”

Believe it or not, our spring market is off to a healthy start this year. We have now written about the same amount of dollar volume as we did at this time last year, possibly a bit more. I attribute the fact that we are on course to our constant attention to pricing. All the beautiful brochures and online photos in the world won’t sell a home in this market if the asking price is too high. So, we have shifted how we communicate with our seller clients, and spot-on pricing is a frequent topic of discussion. While we are rarely getting the prices we would prefer, our clients who sell are relieved to be out from under their home and able to get on with their lives.

But our spring is not all joyful…

As the economy has deteriorated, I have received an increasing number of calls from sellers (who are often also good friends) regarding their heartbreaking circumstances. No one is immune from the impact of the recession, as it has shaken our confidence and gutted our savings. It has hit some people harder than others. I have friends who have lost their jobs, depleted their reserves, pulled their children out of schools they could no longer afford, and had spouses “lose it” under the pressure and walk out or start abusing alcohol. Some days, I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders, knowing that selling our clients’ homes would bring some much-needed good news, even if it would not solve all of their problems.

I first started getting these calls last year as the broader economy and the previously stable residential market both took a turn for the worse. I could tell who was in the most trouble by the frequency of their calls. I was nearly overwhelmed when I learned of the scale of their crises – what was I to do? I have always worked hard to sell homes quickly and at a top return, but it would take much more than my expertise to extract these clients from their dire circumstances. It was frightening, especially since I wanted to help but felt powerless.

Over time, I resigned myself to simply doing the best to help in the ways I could. This is how I respond to friends and clients in distress:

– I try not to panic, no matter how bad things get. Panic does not help any of us.

– I am an emphatic listener. We all feel better when we can get what we are feeling “off our chest.” In many cases, people are comforted just knowing that they are not alone in their struggle.

– I try to stay objective and not let emotions skew my ability to give them wise counsel. As their friend and trusted advisor, I need to tell them the truth, which is not necessarily what they want to hear. However, with the truth, they can make informed decisions, and we can plot a course that has the best chance at success.

– I provide a steady stream of current market data to ensure they understand what is happening and how the value of the home they are selling is affected. My goal is to avoid a scenario where they feel blindsided by a sudden revelation.

– I stay in frequent contact, checking in as often as I am able. My calls are virtual “hugs.” My goal is to make sure they know I am thinking of them and to assure them that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

As M. Scott Peck, M.D. wrote in his best seller The Road Less Traveled, once we accept that life is difficult, we can transcend it. The process is painful, but it is an important step toward recovery. For real estate professionals, these calls are our new reality, and will be for a while as we start the long road toward rebuilding what has been lost.

The good news is that I feel better prepared knowing that I can help, even if it means just being there with words of encouragement, objective counsel, market expertise, and a hug – tangible or otherwise.

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  • TJF

    This is a great post that so many of us can relate to…Thank you for reminding us that we are all in this together…!