There are interludes that arise, while peering through the glass darkly, when I find myself looking back, with a faint smile and a touch of fondness, at the dark ages of real estate. You know – twenty years ago. Way back in the last millennium. It doesn’t seem that long ago. Even if it feels like it was a completely different world.
I remember a running argument I had with my Broker in those days. I wanted a fax machine for the office. I was young(er) and raring to go. I wanted to stoke the art of the deal, tilt at windmills in search of excellence, banish the snail from the mail and address for success sans the 25 cent stamp. I was ready to get down to bid-ness and negotiate the quickest path there.
A wise Old Tortoise, my Broker’s logic was impeccable. “Tom” he said, “the only way one of these fax machines is going to do us any good is if everyone gets a fax machine.”
He was right and wrong of course. A shiny new fax machine sending signals through the fiber optic lines, was worthless if there wasn’t a compatible fax on the other end to receive the overture and consummate the communication. People “stuff” in a people business was/is and should be a two-way street. In 1989, SPAM was just another 4 letter word for bad canned meat.
He did underestimate the nano-time it would take for everyone to lock down their own inner-Luddite, become enamored with all things E (Email, E-commerce, E Properties, even E Fax!) and get on the turbo-charged bandwagon to take the plunge.
And so began the not so long, not so slow, demise of some of those grand old traditions of higher real estate…. the weekly caravan bus, the cadres of couriers running around town and those clunky tumbler-style, lockboxes that rusted up whenever Agents placed them to close to an errant lawn sprinkler. (We used to carry a can of WD 40 with us to un-stick those things just so we could get into the houses.)
Remember the Realtor’s Bible? The compendium of MLS Listings that came out every two weeks and contained all the new listings? It was printed, bound and delivered like Gideon’s telephone book to the front door of all the local Brokerages. Eager Agents waited in anticipation for its arrival, like kids on Christmas Eve. Yes Virginia, there was a time when you couldn’t just strap yourselves onto a search engine and check out the new listings five times a day.
In its purest form, on its best behavior, with its clearest and most powerful voice, being a Real Estate Agent was always more about being a life transition facilitator, part mid-wife, part spirit-guide for those souls journeying on the walkabout of buying or selling a home. More this, than it ever was about selling hyped-up, widgets off the assembly line of life to people wandering onto the used-house lot to kick a few T-111 tires.
In the average residential real estate transaction, the following people or entities participate in the process: buyer, seller, buyer’s agent, seller’s agent, agents’ brokers, escrow coordinator, title researcher, escrow officer, escrow assistant, loan broker, loan assistant, loan source, underwriter, document preparer, appraiser, home inspector, termite inspector, a ton of other inspectors, the county recorder’s office.
Whose job is it to make sure that all of these people and all these things are talking and communicating to and with one another? Who connects all the little islands of information in the archipelago to make sure that the end result magically materializes at a specific moment in time and space? You know…the Close of Escrow – when the Deed is Done and the Check is Cut.
Unofficially, it has always been the Real Estate Agent’s job, whether they realized it, copped to it or stepped up to the task or not. Real Estate Agents are the only one’s in a position to see the whole of the sum of the parts. They are the only one’s who speak at least a smattering of each of the different languages that are being used. While some folks still think the Agent’s primary job is simply to find that one perfect house or that one perfect buyer, they are missing the essential role of the one right and real person, who should be acting as their trusty ombudsperson while they walk the walk.
When we all took the plunge, twenty years ago, we went from the slow dance to the slam dance. We went from nuanced choreography to the chaos of the mosh pit. And everything got more confusing in the process. More complex. Faster. Out of control. The brilliance of Moore’s Law notwithstanding, more is in many ways less. Not more better. While integrating the circuit we’ve dis-integrated the connections between heart and head and home.
And so, there are some days, some small dizzy interludes, when I find myself reaching for a can of virtual WD 40 to help me unlock the tumblers of an invisible system that is clogged in the fiber optic lines and floating out of control on the ether. Right now, I’d settle for just the fax, M’am.