Tag Archives: life transitions

The Fog of More

Unknown-6I know I’ve been piling it on recently, but I promise, this is my last column on the subject of people and their “stuff”. Even if the “stuff” in our lives isn’t going to go away or fade quietly into the night just because we stop talking about it. Heck, that¹s how it all got there in the first place.

As the population ages, more baby-boomers and their octogenarian parents are facing profound transitions. Many of those challenges are requiring them to down-size and re-evaluate their relationships with their own “stuff.” Coming to terms with the baggage we carry around with us is an inevitable part of life. Just like aging is an inevitable prelude to what comes next.

In more lucid moments, most of us know we “can’t take it with us.” Even though, when we’re locked into the unconscious routines of our daily lives, most of us keep stashing it away – outta sight/outta mind ­ stuffing it down instead of pausing to come to grips with the cumulative weight of it all. And even though, the most common default solution is to “leave it all behind” for someone else to deal with after we’re gone.

My thanks to Claire Rubach, (thehomeweeder.com). She’s a thoughtful observer of the human condition. A great helper/guide when it comes to the paring down and cleansing of stuff. I encourage anyone wrestling with their “stuff demons” to give her a call. Each person’s stuff is unique. An objective voice shining the light of consciousness on our collective tendencies is a helpful service.

Here are some other last thoughts about people and their stuff and the “fog of more” that so many are caught up in:

Human beings are wired to chase after stuff. Neuro-marketing studies have pinpointed parts of the brain that release increased dopamine levels at the mere thought of buying things. We don¹t experience the same cocktail high of brain chemicals once we actually own them.

Buying, collecting, saving “things” is a way of trying to fill some of the holes we feel in our lives. Some lack of something. Some less than something. Some wound that needs patching.

It’ s tough to consider rolling up our sleeves, marching out to the garage, chucking it all into a dumpster and hauling it away. That almost feels like we’d be tossing away a portion of ourselves in the process. The things we own and save morph into imagined physical expressions of who we think we are. Surrogate alter-egos rather than true selves.

Most of us unknowingly practice a form of sympathetic magic ­ the same kind of ritual that people often made fun of in older native/indigenous cultures that believed inanimate “things” possessed special powers. We like to invest the objects we own/save with power. We try to park our life force in them. We confuse the thing with the emotion. The stuff for the meaning. The item for the memory. Like “it” resides out there instead of inside us.

I have yet to meet anyone who was able to confront the little voice in their head saying  “wait, I might need that someday” before summoning up the energy to get rid of most of their old baggage, who didn’t feel much lighter and happier afterwards. Maybe freedom is just another word for nothing left to keep.

Life Along the Continuum

blogphoto2Realtors are given intimate access to lots of life lessons by virtue of their work. We are blessed with opportunities for insight into the good, the bad and the ironic of human nature – simply by doing what we do.

Everyday we are invited into people’s homes and lives.  Asked to play a role in the life transitions our clients choose to navigate. Or in the transitions that unexpectedly arise to choose them.

As long as we keep our eyes and hearts open, we get to work with all the biggies.

Marriage.  Growing families. Birth of twins.  Job promotions. Career goals. Coming of age.  Empty nests.  Divorces.  Second marriages. Health challenges.  Assisted living.  Death of parents.  Loss of friends..

For better or for worse. Richer or poorer. In sickness and in health.  And everything in between.  These are all the reasons people move.  And why homes are bought and sold. Life transitions are what home-lives are really about.

YThe essence of home isn’t rooted in the notion that people should stay put forever and resist change as long as they can.  It lies in people trying to find the most appropriate means and comfortable ways to shift their center in relation to life’s inevitability.   Not to change really isn’t an option.

When people spend hours surfing the web or driving around neighborhoods looking for three bedrooms rather than two, bigger backyards, proximity to schools, more privacy, less grass to mow, deeper connections to nature, shorter commute times, fewer stairs …   they are really just participating in the evolution of life and the grander scheme of things.

Realtors have front row seats to the entire drama. Theirs is a perfect vantage point along the continuum.  They get to watch it all unfold while the clock continues to wind down.

And that’s something incredibly rare these days.  The gift of the big picture.

More and more, the world seems intent on compartmentalizing life.  Diminishing the whole. Breaking things up into smaller bits.  Deconstructing them into disparate fragments and fodder for the digital age.

Our right-brains selves that connect us to the larger, analogous flow of life, are losing ground to our left-brain selves – whose aim, it appears, is to Balkanize everyone and everything into separate realms of existence.

It’s sad to hear people talk about seniors like they are from a different planet. (Is that the octogenarian seniors who are really our parents? Or is it those of us who just earned the dubious honor of purchasing cheaper tickets at the movies? )

It’s also sad to hear people talk about millennials like they are from some different time in history.

Like all of us are somehow different populations of “other” people simultaneously occupying alternate universes instead of co-existing together in the here and now.

Trans-generational living was once the norm.  Families transitioned through all of life’s changes and stages together as a whole. Children were born into households that had parents and grandparents and often great-grandparents living under one roof.

Aunts and uncles lived next door or nearby. Cousins were playmates.  Children learned from all the adults in their tribe. They saw all of life’s stages unfold up close and personal.  They witnessed death and integrated the memory of it.

People didn’t stray so far from home.  Society/Culture wasn’t as fluid or transient as it is now. An appreciation for the continuity to life was communicated it’s  most visceral human level.

Somewhere along the way, that quality of life left the building.  It deserted our homes and our towns. Migrated to the suburbs. Met a dystopian future.

But that’s not the end of the story.  My own optimism about the future has been buoyed in recent years by the choices I am watching my clients make more consistently in the face of change.   Next week we’ll talk more about that.

Deja Vu All Over Again

Number1I keep experiencing a sense of déjà vu lately.  At least four or five times a week,  I find myself in the middle of the same conversation with completely different people that I only seemingly came into contact with randomly.

Coincidence?  I think not.  I don’t believe in coincidences anymore.  Everything has meaning if you pay attention.

The scenario usually goes like this:  A call comes in.  The person on the line is thinking about selling a home. Has a few questions. Wonders if I can come over to take a look.  Wants to begin collecting information. Get recommendations on what they need to do to prepare for sale.

They aren’t ready to sell today.  They’re just trying to get a handle on things.  A better sense of what the big picture of real estate looks like.  Where the market is and how much they might be able to sell for.

All of this is great of course.  It’s what I do.  How many hundreds of these calls and visits have I had over the years? How many thousands of people have I talked to who were at some critical point along the spectrum of change in their lives?

Folks living in different homes. With different backgrounds. Histories. Different jobs.  Incomes.  Different interests. Very different lifestyles.

And yet, there it is. The discussion that keeps coming back around these days with greater and greater frequency.

What invariably starts out as a simple real estate-related Q&A suddenly shifts towards much broader concerns. More substantial goals.  Bigger worries.  Existential dilemmas. Philosophical meanings. Quality of life considerations.

It’s a collective voice.  An echo rising from deep within the culture.  A huge, silent dreaming that’s seeking expression.  Looking around for other like-minded voices to engage with and learn from.

The caller is usually somewhere  between 55 and 65 years old.  They often have aging parents in their 80s or 90s.  Maybe kids close to graduating college or already out in the world.

They are bouncing retirement issues around.  When and how to quit working?  There’s a nascent desire to “move-down” in scope.  Simplify life. Get rid of all the useless stuff collecting in the garage.  Thoughts about fewer stairs.  Less yard and ongoing property maintenance.  A strong urge to be debt free.

Conflicting notions  about whether it makes sense to stay in Santa Cruz or move somewhere else less expensive.  A place with less traffic.  Somewhere with a strong sense of community.  Neighborhoods where you can walk.  Meet other neighbors.  Enjoy interesting cultural offerings.  Outdoor activities.   A life that’s more experience-based.

There are all kinds of unanswered questions swimming around. Floating in and out of the picture.

How much of a nest egg is really necessary?  What about future health issues?  All the confusion about heath insurance, long-term care insurance, family trusts. The vagaries of social security.  The esoteric nature of financial planning.  The lingering memory of our recent financial meltdown.

And how ultimately, does all of it relate back to decisions involving our primary residences?  Homes.  The biggest assets most of us own, as well as the all-important physical, emotional, spiritual centering places in our lives.

Sound familiar?  Welcome to the club.  With slight variations here and there, this is the core conversation that more and more people are having.

Today 10,000 people in the US will turn 65. In another 5 to 7 years, that number will go way up. At the same time people are going to be living longer than their parents did. What does it mean for real estate?

You are invited to join the conversation. Stay tuned.

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.


Do I get a Mulligan?

Last week we were musing about Buyers Remorse. That torturous aspect of real estate that seems to take great pleasure in showing up like an unwanted guest in the middle of so many escrows.

I’m sure we Realtors use the phrase too much. Extend the fragile umbrella of its meaning too far into the twisting wind. But what else can we call “it”?

There has to be some way to talk about those clandestine meetings that arise in our clients’ heads when they’re navigating something as huge as buying a house. Not to mention all the other major life transitions that come along part and parcel with their shifts in home-ness.

There’s got to be some common term for the cascade effect that occurs when people’s worry centers start throwing “What-Ifs” wildly up into the air like ping- pong balls in the lotto game of life.

There has to be some language that captures those scary moments when buyer emotions ratchet up because real life is suddenly on the verge of becoming more real. When dreaming and talking get squeezed by events into the necessity of actually doing and deciding.

Swells of commitment approaching. Rogue waves that can’t be taken back. Tides of inevitability rushing past warning buoys towards a bridge too far and the tipping point of no return. Offer to Negotiation to Acceptance to Deposit to Inspections to Release of Contingencies to Sign-Off to Close.

Yikes! OMG! What if I make a mistake? Will God give me a mulligan?

Yep. Buyers Remorse – a staple of real estate. A dish found hanging around the table whenever the heat gets turned up in the kitchen and the escrow pot starts boiling. A daily special cooked and served up in all kinds of strange and interesting ways. Steamed. Grilled. Poached. And definitely fried.

Funny, the more ways Buyers Remorse gets prepared. the more unprepared I seem to be when it rears its all-too human head. Call it an occupational hazard – the spectre of escrow-interruptus still lurks like a shadow around every corner.

Somehow, I’ve managed to stay sane and adjust my own frame of reference over time. Here’s an analogy that makes it all make more sense – at least to me.

Close your eyes. Let your imagination drift back to college. A memorable Friday night. Alone at the local watering hole having a few beers. Looking across the room. Making eye contact . Love at first sight. Brain chemicals racing to the heart. Fireworks exploding. And in some fashion (appropriate to a family newspaper) a magical weekend spent with your new-found desire.

Then….Monday morning comes. The alarm goes off. The real world calls. You return to that other life – where the rest of you starts to question the whole experience.

Now fast forward to real estate land. Look at how the process is designed. No wonder it scares the hell out of just about everyone.

Buyers fall in love with houses. Get swept up in emotion. Make offers that are accepted. So far so good.

But happens next? They hire the equivalent of several private detectives in the form of Home Inspectors and Termite Guys to come and tell them everything that could possibly be wrong with the thing they just fell in love with. They pay people money to test their resolve and break the bonds of emotion captivating them.

At the same time their Agent hands them thick dossiers of information about all the secret things about homes that could harm them. Asbestos. Radon Gas. Lead Based Paint. Floods. Earthquakes. Who knew there were this many horsemen of the apocalypse?

Buyers Remorse isn’t some awful aberration of the psyche. It is something that’s infinitely normal. Is there any buyer on the planet that doesn’t wake up at least once during the course of escrow plagued by tremors of doubt and at least the mild choking sensation of existential terror? If so, then they must be living life as an automaton, without benefit of the normal emotional chip the rest of us were born with.



A Meditation on Home-Ness

(On the occasion of the 5th Anniversary of 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 just the opposite of what we expect. There are twists and turns 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 growing inside of it.

Given my history, I could say  that  I’ve looked at home from both sides now. We could queue up the Joni Mitchell record but that would be a bit corny. And that would be a little bit 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 for now. Maybe we don’t.

What  I can tell you, both from being without home and then from working as a Realtor and having danced so closely with so many  people going through such  an incredible  variety of life transitions  ( all the biggies:  marriage, divorce, birth of twins, death, illness,  old age, coming of age,  new job, job loss)   is this:  Home isn’t just an either/or thing.  Home isn’t just an all-or-nothing thing.

My  theory is: It’s not just  home-less issues we are fighting.  The entire country is locked up in a steel-cage wrestling match with its own demons.  We’ve got lots of  “issues” as they say.  I think the home less issue is just one expression sitting at the end of the much larger spectrum of home-ness  issues we face.

And home- ness is about  learning how to find and appreciate our own unique relationship to heart and home.   Even as the culture all around us is busy becoming more discombobulated, more out of  touch and more out of whack with what home really ought to be. That’s the challenge.  That’s the extra assignment of home-work we all need to keep doing.

If we think of homeless people  as somehow being people outside the loop,  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 who have homes.

My contention is that there just isn’t that much that separates any of us who are journeying around the great wheel of life.  There is almost no degree of separation.  Just a bunch of tiny threads and small choices and snap decisions and brief moments in time that are getting pulled and tugged  in different directions while things remain in constant motion. And the story keeps turning.  All  around us.

If anything has shown us how fluid this notion of home-ness is,  it’s the last five years.  The Rebele Family Shelter has done its home-work. Tirelessly and heroically it has helped to bring more than 300 families back to home. Helped them find a place 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 going kind of crazy.  Spinning out of control. Millions of other 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 that will be reflected in the stats on the front page of tomorrow’s paper. And the next day’s.  And the next’s.
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. There were subprime loans and credit default swaps. People began viewing their homes as cash cows and milked 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.

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 bread crumbs for others to follow. Somebody has to stay in the trenches and keep it all simple. Help people 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 about home…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.


Buy Buy Baby

Stay with me on this one folks. It sounds a little crazy  – but what else is new when it comes to my own or anyone else’s real estate of mind. It’s all stranger than fiction.

Buying a home can feel remarkably similar to being pregnant.

There I said it.  I can hear those pregnant pauses now. Groans welling up from today’s studio audience.  As a gender-related note of apology, I promise to pass a large kidney stone in the future just to make amends.

First, there’s the obvious. The timing is right. The stars are aligned.  The seed of an idea issues forth out of a gleam in the eye and suddenly something inside you takes hold.  Out of the blue you are on the cusp of one of those great journeys in life.  A transition that is both exhilarating and a little scary.  Part of you tries to grasp the whole notion of what it means to leap into this particular variation of the unknown.  There’s an inkling that things are going to change in ways you can’t even imagine yet but it’s all a bit abstract at first. Am I talking about buying a home or having a baby?

The inception of the idea is followed by a long gestation period, as that initial spark of desire begins to grow and take shape.   No one conceives of buying a house one day and then simply runs out to make it happen the next.  Real estate isn’t designed to work that way.  And even if it could, most people need time to adjust to the whole notion of buying a house. What will it look like? Will it be a boy? Girl? Ranch style?  Victorian? Buyers, just like future parents, imagine a million different scenarios in their heads before what actually comes to pass, comes to pass.  There are early, formative stages of development along the way that everyone has to go through.

The obvious aside, here’s the way that buying a house is most like being pregnant…  Expectant mothers as well as expectant buyers will all recognize this particular phenomenon.  Moms, do you remember how, when you were most obviously pregnant, total strangers seemed to think nothing about coming up to you in the middle of a public place, completely ignoring whatever sense of boundaries or personal space you might have,  in order to reach their hands out and feel your belly?

In addition to the physical intrusion, most of these same people were incredibly eager to launch into their own detailed accounts describing the good, the bad and the more than you ever really wanted to know, of their birth experiences.

It happens all the time. Well-meaning people just can’t help it. There’s some deep archetypal connection they feel that makes them blurt things out without considering the appropriateness of what they are saying.  Does an expectant mother really want to hear about 36 hours of grueling labor and all the things that the delivery doctor should or should not have done?

Now step into the metaphorical maternity shoes of a buyer going through the growing pains of  looking for the right home, making an offer,  being in escrow, having inspections, wrangling with the lender  – ” the full catastrophe” as Zorba the Greek might have put it .
See if you don’t recognize the distinct variation on a theme.

Announce to the world that you are buying a house and suddenly friends, relatives, cube-mates, acquaintances and a boatload of imperfect strangers are popping  up everywhere, coming out of the woodwork to insist on offering you their own unsolicited reams of advice about this, that and every other thing that they may have experienced themselves while buying their home. No detail is too small. No fear is too big.  No odd, weird or completely crazy story is too odd, weird or crazy. Jeckyll and Hyde tales abound – ad infinitum ad nauseum.

People who have been down the road to home ownership before seem to view themselves as kindred souls.  Defacto experts with a deep, misguided sense of  shared experience that gives them unspoken permission to recite the Home Buyers Bible –  chapter and verse.

Dig in Buyers. There’s going to be a deluge of unsought opinion, un-sage advice, out of context comment and rampant recommendations coming your way.  It’s going to make your head spin until you think you are on the verge of doing a Linda Blair.

If you let it happen that is.

What’s the best advice for buyers trying to birth a new home? Don’t tattoo it on your forehead.  Keep it to yourself as much as you can. If it gets out, turn down the sound. Tune out the armchair quarterbacks.  Just say no to all those that want to relive their buy-gone days through you.  In the end, if you really want to own your own home you have to start by owning your own process.  Become your own mindful midwife. It’s going to be your baby,  not anyone else’s.