Monthly Archives: December 2013

Throwing Darts at the Future

DartsThere I was driving home on Highway 1 the other night, ruminating about the future of real estate, when I came to a grinding halt in bumper-to-bumper traffic. As I sat there unmoving, I glanced up at the Caltans billboard near 41st Avenue and noticed a string of strange flashing lights and random words running across the electronic screen.
Suddenly my cell phone rang and an eerie mechanical voice on the other end said: “Pay attention and write.” I was so shocked I grabbed my laptop and for the next three hours a series of messages channeled through the traffic board as I feverishly tried to keep up with my meager typing skills.
What follows is only a small part of all I was shown and told. Predictions for the future courtesy of some Century 23 Agent traveling back in time? Who knows? Fact or fantasy? You be the judge. I’m just the instrument of some higher power with a heck of a cell phone bill.
•    A study by the National Association of Realtors will conclude that making more Pocket Calls does not result in a larger inventory of Pocket Listings.
•    A missing Escrow Officer will be found alive under a massive avalanche of paper after surviving 6 days without food, water or a sanity check.
•    Home Ownership will officially be declared an alienable right of the American Dream.
•    An entire Cabrillo College class in Abnormal Psychology will apprentice at a local Real Estate Company for a year of in-depth fieldstudy.
* As more Americans adjust to simpler lifestyles in the post-recession era, a dramatic increase in the number of Near-Life Experiences will be reported.

*  Sweeping new consumer-legislation designed to protect homeowners will require builders to install Air Bags inevery new home.

* Realtors will expand their efforts to reach Millennial Buyers with cutting edge marketing/ branding techniques like company tattoos and vanity piercings.

* A large pharmaceutical firm will begin clinical trials for a mourning after pill designed to relieve symptoms of Buyers Remorse.

– When Baby Boomers universally declare that old age doesn’t start until 75, defiant 20 somethings will proclaim that official adulthood doesn’t begin until the age of 40.

– Agents holding Open Houses will begin handing out insulated booties to encourage more buyers with cold feet.

– When neuro-scientists discover consumer brains respond more directly to smells rather than sights and sounds,  more Aromatherapists will become Home Stagers and make “Sell the Smell” a common catchphrase.

– More frustrated homebuyers will turn to online Virtual Dream Homes in thecoming year, where their Avatars can easily move into custom comfort. California will also begin exploring a Virtual Property Tax.

– EXTREME MORTGAGE: HOME EDITION will make its debut on Reality TV. First time buyers will compete for loan approval while a panel of celebrity underwriters comes up with a new set of performance anxieties each week.

– Remote Viewing will be just one of the innovative new forms of Psychic Marketing that begins to replace old fashioned, web-based, virtual tours.

– A prestigious group of spin-doctors will accuse the National Association of Realtors of implanting false market memories in the minds of vulnerable buyers and sellers.

– Conversation Pits will begin making a comeback in American homes.  They’ll be located in lead-lined safe rooms, where no electromagnetic wifi or cell phone frequencies can penetrate.

– A class-action lawsuit against Zillow will reveal that the company’s online real estate values are actually derived from white collar sweatshop employees in India throwing darts, rather than a series of secret mathematical algorithms.

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Home for the Holidays

HomeHolidaysA Meditation on Home-Ness for The Rebele Family Shelter

Life is endlessly rich and full of irony. Things don’t always turn out exactly as we plan or hope. Sometimes outcomes are the opposite of what we expect. There are twists andturns along the way. Juxtapositions that mysteriously occur.

Never underestimate irony. Embrace it. Irony is one of our greatest teachers. It always reminds us that everything has the seed of something else inside of it.

Given a few chapters in my own history, I could say I’ve looked at home from both sides now and queue up a Joni Mitchell record. But that would be too corny and too simple.

We are all just people on the continuum. Maybe we are and maybe we
aren’t homeless. Maybe we have a roof over our heads right now. Maybe we don’t.

What I can tell you, both from being without a home and then from working as a Realtor and dancing so closely with so many people going through incredible life transitions isthis:

Home isn’t just an either/or thing. Home isn’t just an all-or-nothing thing.
It’s not just home-less issues we are struggling with.

We’ve got lots of “issues” as they say. The entire country is locked in a steel-cage wrestling match with its own demons.  The homeless issue is just one expression sitting at the end of the much larger spectrum of home-ness issues we face.

Home-ness is about learning to appreciate our own unique relationship with heart and home. Even as the culture all around us is busy becoming more discombobulated. More out of touch.  More out of whack with what home really ought to be.

That’s the challenge. The extra assignment of home-work we all need to
keep doing.  If we think of homeless people as somehow being outside the mainstream, existing in some other strange dimension apart from everyone else, then they become the OTHERS. They become less than – HOME LESS THAN the rest of us.

My contention is that there just isn’t that much that separates any of us journeying around the great wheel of life. There’s almost no degree of separation.

Just a bunch of tiny threads. Small choices. Snap decisions. Brief moments in time.  Getting pulled and tugged in different directions while things remain in constant motion and the story keeps turning all around us.

Born in 2005 at the (maybe not uncoincidentally)  of the craziest real estate market the world has ever known,

The Rebele Family Shelter has done its home-work. Tirelessly helping to bring more than 450 families back to home. Helping them find places of re-entry into the world.

But an ironic thing happened on the way to all those families finding their way back. The world itself was spinning out of control.

Between and 2008- 2012 Millions of people were losing their homes in the bursting bubble of the late, great real estate boom. People losing their homes became a national pastime. A
sad truth reflected in the stats on the front page of the paper.

The world has been drifting out of orbit, further and further away from home and heart all this time.

There was leverage and low interest rates. Equity lines and negative amortization. Subprime loans and credit default swaps. People began viewing their homes as cash cows andmilked them for all they were worth. There were ego homes and monster homes and homes that were getting flipped and re-flipped on Reality TV.   Everyone drank the kool-ade.

And ….now…. we’re here on the ultimate flip side of all that flipping. And not
surprisingly…we’re flipped out. We’ve got ghostly subdivisions and sprawling tracts of homes sitting empty in the fields of the Central Valley. And ringing the outskirts of Las Vegas, where the betting capital of the planet lost the bet. We’ve got bailouts and a credit crunch. We’ve got late payments and notices of default. Foreclosures and short sales. Declining values and shrinking nest eggs.

And meanwhile… Rents are rising as fewer and fewer people can afford to be
homeowners. And even more people are living paycheck to paycheck. And more people are struggling to make ends meet – one small disaster away from a much bigger disaster.

Is there anyone that doesn’t know someone who is underwater? Late on their payments? In default? Or in foreclosure? Or in the middle of a short sale?
Or worried about some or all of the above? Anyone?

So there you have it. Home isn’t something that happens while we are busy making other plans. It is right here. Right at the center of everything we do and everything we are.

While all this is happening, someone, somewhere has to stay home and keep the
home-fire burning. The hearth warm. Keep the porch light on. Continue to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for others to follow.

Somebody has to stay in the trenches and keep it all simple. Helppeople with food…shelter….warmth…clothing,…. showers….safety…a place of refuge…
That’s the work of the Shelter. To maintain balance and hold the center in the face of the maelstrom. Hold the center.

So We’re all here in one way or another to pay homage to home. Not to any particular story abouthome…but to all the stories about home.

This is a celebration of some of the beautiful ways that the people of Santa Cruz have found to share home with each other… My past and present have given me a deep appreciation for all the things that home is for people. A deep reverence for its meanings.

The trick is to remain mindful of it all. To be able to hold it all in your heart. The good, the bad and the sometimes ugly. The strange, the touching, the sad and the glorious. All of it. All of it at the same time. Because all of it is what fills our hearts up.

I’m convinced that in order to do this work day in and day out, we each
have to keep reminding ourselves where home resides inside of us. We have to keep going there and renewing that place.This brief meditation was a small metaphor for what the Rebele Family Shelter does every single day. It slows things down so folks have time to think and perhaps even more important, time to feel. Time to breathe . Time to accept and acknowledge the help of others. And time to remember and appreciate those simple things about home that can mean the whole world to someone in need.

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Just the Tip of the Iceberg

IcebergContinuing to wax philosophically about the nature of real estate as we head into the home stretch of 2013…  If you want to catch up or just adjust the font size to make Real Estate of Mind more legible for your aging eyes, go to tombrezsny.wordpress.com.

Buying or selling a home is never just about buying or selling a home.  There’s always a more interesting and meaningful story afoot. Weaving it’s way in, around, over, under sideways, through the more mundane aspects of the “real estate process.”

The house, the offer, the negotiation, the loan, the escrow – all these things we like to think real estate is about are just stage props and window dressing/house addressing along the way.

They are tips of much larger icebergs that lie beneath the surface of every situation. Varying in size, shape and fathomable depth.  But always there.

Ask any Agent. They’ll tell you. Each home sale could be written as a novel or Greekplay.  Every transaction is full of fate and destiny. Pathos. Catharsis. Tragic heroes. Hubris.  Change of fortune. Revelation.

Each could easily be a dramatic mini-series.  Or an entire season of compelling Reality Realty TV.  Because every home sale contains a unique story about the human beings involved.

People going through major life transitions (birth of twins, marriage, divorce, death, aging, health crisis, job loss etc. et al.)  Ones that involve the largest asset they’ll ever own as well as the core thing that embodies their deepest feelings about safety, comfort and refuge (a.k.a Home).

If only it were as simple as those young yayhoos on Million Dollar Listing make it out to be.  The true cost of living index is much more complicated than that.

So here’s the thing:  The real pay-off for me as a Realtor is that I get to witness intimate stories about change that happen every day.  And after 25 years, I’ve amassed an amazing library of true stories.

Narratives full of life’s richness. Heroic feats.  Stupid human tricks. People slaying their dragons.  Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. (And the other way around too!)

Hundreds of first-hand stories about choices and decisions people made as they came to the crossroads or navigated the forking paths of their lives on the planet.

I feel both blessed and cursed at times.  Bearing witness to the good, bad and ugly of human nature daily provides a powerful vantage point but also a precarious perch in the eye of the storm.

What comes out of all these individual stories is a strong feeling for the pulse of the culture that surrounds us.  The culture we don’t always notice we are part of while we are busy participating in it. Sorta like fish swimming in water.

What also emerges is a glimpse of the secret dreaming that is going on all around us. Beneath all the exterior trappings people cloak their lives with. People think a lot ofstuff.  And people say a lot of stuff.   But real estate is where the rubber hits the road.  In order to do real estate, people actually have to do stuff. Home and its accompanying life transitions are where the nexus of change resides.

It’s a fascinating irony that we live in a world that’s linked much closer than ever before – at the same so many people feel more alone and isolated than they’ve ever felt before.

Next week we’ll explore how people’s desire for more real connection in the world is being reflected in the real homes and real quality of life they are choosing through real estate change.

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Widgets Driven Off the Assembly Line of Life?

Picking up where we left off last week…(go to tombrezsny.wordpress.com if you missed Real Estate of Mind)

ImageBuying or Selling a home often serves as ground-zero for people trying to push the reset button and create some semblance of balanceamidst all the challenges, struggles, lessons, opportunities that life invariably offers the living.

Home is our biggest asset.  And Home is also that ineffable thing we can’t quite describe in words. The mysterious place that nurtures our hearts and souls at the same time it puts a roof over our heads and four walls around our bodies to help keep us warm.

Think: refuge, sanctuary, privacy, safety, shelter, comfort.  Then mindfully repeat the word  “home.” (Sounds a lot like the spiritual mantra of “Om” doesn’t it?)

Is there anything else so tangibly interwoven with daily life, that holds the power to touch our deepest emotions, more readily than buying or selling a home does?  Engulf our passions? Activate our fright and flight mechanisms? Confuse and defy our best logic?Tape-loop our most poignant memories?  Incite civil wars between our left and right brain selves?  Conjure endless litanies of pre-imagined what-ifs?  Drive us so completely, utterly, certifiably bat-s__ crazy.

Early in my career,  I kept noticing that lots of people were  distracted. They weren’t always able to concentrate on the intricate details of the real estate process because there were other issues going on in their lives.  They didn’t always say much about those other issues. And I didn’t always ask back then.

As time went on, I found it more and more difficult to have meaningful discussions about people’s real estate options without digging deeper into the nature of the personal goals they were hoping to achieve.

Sometimes the actual houses themselves, didn’t even seem like they were the real end people were seeking.  Often the houses felt more like they were projections or representations of some broader desire people had for change in their lives.

Slowly but surely, I began to realize that this real estate gig wasn’t going to be as simple or easy as lining up contacts and selling tons of homes to ready, willing and able consumers.  Pushing them through an automated process like widgets driven off the assembly line of life.

At the time, I was pretty green and there were a gaggle of real estate success gurus running around out there reaffirming every possible negative used-car stereotype of the Bad Realtor. Using memorable pitches like “sell the sizzle rather than the steak” and “buy this house or get the hell out of my car.”

They are still out there of course.  Offering new and improved techniques for persuasion. Tricks of perspective.  Rhetorical twists and neuro-linguistic slights of hand.  Tapping into different levels of fear and greed.  I’m happy to say I’m less impressionable now.

As I became more conscious of clients as people rather than simply Buyers and Sellers, I soon realized that every transaction I worked in, every house I listed, every showing of a home, was really about someone going through a major life transition.  Without exception.

Marriage. The birth of twins. Divorce. Job loss. Promotion. Family. Health. Aging. Death and dying. You name it.  Up-sizing. Down-sizing.  Starting out.  Retiring. All the biggies.

Selling a home is never just about selling a home.  There’s always a story behind it.

And it’s the collection stories over time that becomes the most fascinating and rewarding part of the work.  The real pay-off.  The opportunity to feel the pulse of the culture that is taking place inside of all those life changes.  Something that’s very difficult to see on the outside, from a distance.

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Pushing Emotional Buttons

ImageI don’t want anyone out there to miss the plot.  Go to tombrezsny.wordpress.com to read last week’s column. We were musing about contradictions that often accompany life in an all-consuming, consumer culture.

Added bonus? Real Estate of Mind online may also be a site for sore eyes for those regular readers who’ve been straining for years to grab hold of bigger concepts I often try to wrap in such tiny newsprint.

Moving on… When you think about it, Real Estate offers a great vantage point to view human nature from. We Realtors don’t just sit in our offices all day like therapists.  Waiting for clients to come into our carefully-crafted work environments for ritual talks about all the changes they hope to see in the future.

Rather, we are in the business of making house calls. We go out to meet people on their own turf.  Surrounded by their own stuff.  We get to know them in the context of their own lives.  And the whole goal, tacitly understood upfront is, we are there because they want to make a change.  Not just talk about change.

That’s not to say some clients wouldn’t secretly be content to keep talking about houses without actually ever having to buy one. There are more than a few serial search engine types,  open house rubber-neckers,   glossy magazine dream home-addicts masquerading as wanna-be-buyers who aren’t really prepared to do the hard work of manifesting change in their lives.

But the real estate process usually outs-them sooner rather than later. Specially since Realtors aren’t paid by the hour like therapists or attorneys and they don’t have much of a stake in the active discouragement of anyone’s procrastination.

Here’s what I know:  Strip away all the window-dressing, the weirdness around buying and sellingand all the mind-numbing layers of paper-chasing process and in its deepest, truest heart, Real Estate is about home.

And for most people, home is two huge things combined under one roof:  It’s the biggest asset most of us will ever own in our lives.  And it’s that ineffable place of refuge, shelter and sanctuary that holds and nourishes our lives.  (Something that’s impossible to describe in words. But also something so intimately universal, we don’t really have to.)

Which brings us back to last week’s quote from F Scott Fitzgerald:  “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Fitzgerald wasn’t referring to Real Estate when he said this, but he could have been. It’s wisdom is at the crux of almost every real estate conversation I have.  Almost every situation I work in on a daily basis.

Buying and selling a home is ground-zero for people trying to come to terms with all the contradictions and that accompany life in a consumer culture.

There aren’t too many things that push people’s emotional buttons more than money does.  And there aren’t too many things that exert the kind of pull that the notion of home does for most people.

In real estate, money and home often feel like two opposing ideas.  Push-pulls that exist in a heightened state of tension.  Swirling around in the mind.  Battling for supremacy. With the power to turn a simple case of cognitive dissonance into an excruciating internal steel cage wrestling match, .

What’s buying a home about?  Creating, protecting and building your largest asset? Or enhancing all those things that constitute that fuzzier measurement known as quality of life?

The answer of course is door number three – both. Next week we’ll look at some of the different choices that people are making these days to balance the out the contradictions.

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The Raw and The Cooked

UnknownMaybe it’s the start of my seasonal affected disorder.  Maybe I’m just riding a Tryptophan-induced high from left-over turkey.  Or maybe I’ve slipped into an altered-state because today’s column is so tightly sandwiched between those iconic holidays of our consumer culture – Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

While I’m not exactly Cooleridge, scrambling to get a few lines of Kubla Khan down before my opium-inspired vision vanishes completely, I do feel strangely contemplative. Bear with me while I get a few fragments down that are dancing around in the Real Estate of my own Mind.

There’s a huge disconnect people feel around the holiday crush. A sense something is missing.  Is this a time for buying or for sharing?  Should we be thankful for what we have? Or out getting more stuff?

Why does more feel so much like less these days? Can we tell the difference anymore? Have the two switched places? Gone through some sort of weird transference?

Remember when Cable TV first offered 100 channels and you couldn’t figure out why there was nothing to watch?  A quaint notion that has been swallowed whole by a wired world where logging onto the internet is like trying to “get a drink of water from a fire hose.”

And where this “howl” by an early Facebook employee has assumed the identity of Ginsburg’s original.   “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads, and that sucks”
 
Strike a chord? Here’s a mindful exercise. Look up the Visual Thesaurus for “consume”.  Note the contradictions layered into its nuances.  It can mean “to take in” or it can mean “to devour”. Ingest or destroy.  Engage or exhaust.  Absorb or deplete. 
 
How should we see it?  Does consuming make us feel half full? Or mostly half empty?  What does it mean to live in a consumer culture?  In an economic zeitgeist driven by consumer spending defined as a percent of it’s “gross domestic product?”   Where big data concepts like the Consumer Confidence Index exist and things called Credit Scores gauge worthiness to consume?  Where the Feds have esoteric discussions about things like “Consumer Fatigue” before deciding whether to print more money?
 
We have to consume to exist right?  But if things become too all-consuming isn’t the ultimate result a kind of wasting-away?  A dissipating form of consumption like the disease? The snake chasing its tail?  Feeding on itself so it can feed on itself?
 
Other homework assignments:  1) Watch George Carlin’s classic “Stuff” on you tube.  2)  Google  “The Paradox of Our Time” – also attributed to Carlin.  3) Read  ‘Present Shock’ by Douglas Rushkoff.  4) Watch a new you tube video called “Worn Wear”  produced by Patagonia.
 
 
Other news this week set the stage for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sale-abrations:  The DOW shot past 16,000 and NASDAQ went over 4,000 for the first time in 13 years as Silicon Valley experienced déjà vu and began to party like it was 1999 again.
 
Chase Bank agreed to pay a $13 billion fine for selling faulty mortgages in 2008 and Pope Francis called for a renewal of the Catholic Church with his first encyclical that included:  “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”
 
F Scott Fitzgerald once said:  “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Hold that thought. To Be Continued next week…

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