Wednesday, February 28, 2007

They Gotta Live Somewhere

You might call this taking time off – I call it a different way of working. Spending quality time with a best friend, both of us artists, wandering around and feasting our eyes on the finest in American handcrafts. Hundreds of the best of the best come to Baltimore each February for the American Craft Council (ACC) Winter Market. If you are an artist, you don't just buy a booth and show up here – this is one of the toughest juried competitions there is, and the quality of the few who are chosen proves it.

As a former ceramic artist, and my friend a former glass artist, we try never to miss this special show though we have gone for different reasons over the years. When I was a working artist it was for ideas, for booth displays, learning about the artists and of course networking -.seeing my art clients there and staying in front of the public. Now that I am in real estate, I find that when I am doing something that I really enjoy, there are others with the same interests.

My cute little camera came along and I was able to get shots of some special pieces and even a couple of the artisans. Whenever you are with an artist, always ask permission to take a photo before snapping away. It's no different than when you are showing a home – you ask permission of the owner or the agent. Almost all the artists were delighted to allow the photos, and every one made a point of thanking me for asking. One asked what I was using the photos for, and I of course said, the world needs to see what is going on at the Baltimore Convention Center. If I am going to take a day off, I want to share it. There were so many interesting things to see, I just kept snapping away – here are some examples in glass, metal, ceramic, fiber, and leather:

Michael Szabo from California has a unique way of using stainless steel, concrete and bronze to create these beauties.

Jennifer McCurdy from Massachusetts works with wheel thrown porcelain that is carved and incised.

Wendy Ellertson from Massachusetts creates fanciful creatures from fiber and leather.

We spent extra time at the Josh Simpson glass booth while my friend chose a treasure from this incredibly talented artist from Massachusetts. His display included a video that showed him working with hot glass and creating his intricate vases, bowls, and "inhabited planet" globes. After much debate my friend settled on this "inhabited vase," adding a fifth piece to her collection. She blew her wad but has an extraordinary piece of eye candy. We calculated that she actually saved money since this is the kind of treasure you buy on vacation, but she didn't have to pay for air fare, a cruise, hotel, or taxi!

There was a little travel cost for the day – a whopping $1.60 for the Light Rail that lets you off at the door to the Convention Center. I even met a fellow art collector and business owner, and we exchanged cards. Which reminded me again that there is no reason to stay in a real estate office to feel like you are working. Just remember that no matter what the hobby or interest, they gotta live somewhere.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

It began a couple of weeks ago. The world of technology seemed to be turning against me. First my trusty Treo started having an identity crisis, some of the features not working, so I began looking for a backup on eBay just in case. That was before I dropped the phone a couple of days ago and created this colorful display. And before my wonderful tech was able to coax what was left of the phone to sync to my computer – a process that took hours instead of the normal seconds – so that I could at least find out what appointments I had. And just to top things off, the back of my watch fell off – again – and this time I lost it.

At first I figured it was must me, but then I noticed that almost everyone I talked to had a similar tale of technology and communications gone haywire. My buyer who is scheduled to go to settlement on Tuesday reported his DSL suddenly went out. His agent tried to fax a repairs list over, but her fax was down. An appraiser couldn't email information to the lender – the message kept bouncing – but could send it to me so that I could forward it on.

I happened to mention these technoglitches to my client in California who is negotiating for a home here in Baltimore. He had two words to explain it all: Mercury retrograde. Excuse me? You heard right – Mercury is in retrograde, from February 14 through March 8. The smallest planet (since Pluto was demoted) is blamed for disrupting and misguiding communications, breakdowns in phones and computers, and transportation snafus involving cars, buses, and trains during its retrograde phase.

Three or four times a year it does this little routine, and people who study the phenomenon know the symptoms well. This client takes it seriously; he planned his trip to Baltimore and several important dates around this period. And he wasn't surprised at all when I told him that his counteroffer kept bouncing back when the other agent tried to send it, but went through fine from my computer.

Yesterday I was losing it with my phone broken, my watch broken, and did I mention my GPS that suddenly decided to change the route home? If you've ever been around a Type E over the edge, you know it's not a good place to be. Thanks to my client, today I have an explanation. To explain my multi-tasking say of working, I say "That's just me, a Type E," and now I have a reason for the unexplainable: "It's just Mercury in retrograde!"

Does Mercury have it in for us mortals and our tech gadgets? Or is it the full moon tomorrow? Or just coincidence? Whether the answer is none or all of the above, I'm handling it better. And if you think about it, doesn't it generally work better if you admit when you can't control a situation and move on to how to cope?

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Monday, February 19, 2007

The Power of One

By now just about everyone has received an email that ended with these three lines:

Work like you don't need money.
Love like you've never been hurt,

Dance like no one's watching.

Sure, it's good advice even if it's pretty hard to follow. But did you know that those lines are actually part of a larger story? This one showed up in my email inbox the other day, and reminded me of the power of one person to change not only their immediate surroundings but also the lives of people they've never met. So as Paul Harvey would say, here's The Rest of the Story.

The Daffodil Principle

Several times my daughter had telephoned to say,
"Mother, you must come to see the daffodils before they are over."

I wanted to go, but it was a two-hour drive. "I will come next Tuesday," I promised a little reluctantly on her third call.

The next Tuesday dawned cold and rainy. Still, I had promised, and reluctantly
I drove there. When I finally walked into Carolyn's house I was welcomed by the joyful sounds of happy children. I delightedly hugged and greeted my grandchildren.

"Forget the daffodils, Carolyn! The road is invisible in these clouds and fog, and there is nothing in the world except you and these children that I want to see badly enough to drive another inch!"

My daughter smiled calmly and said, "We drive in this all the time, Mother."

"Well, you won't get me back on the road until it clears, and then I'm heading for home!" I assured her.

"But first we're going to see the daffodils. It's just a few blocks," Carolyn said. "I'll drive. I'm used to this."

" Carolyn," I said sternly, "Please turn around."

"It's all right, Mother, I promise. You will never forgive yourself if you miss this experience."

After about twenty minutes, we turned onto a small gravel road and I saw a small church. On the far side of the church, I saw a hand lettered sign with an arrow that read, "Daffodil Garden." We got out of the car, each took a child's hand, and I followed Carolyn down the path. Then, as we turned a corner, Ilooked up and gasped.

It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it over the mountain peak and its surrounding slopes. The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns, great ribbons and swaths of deep orange, creamy white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, and saffron and buttery yellow. Each different colored variety was planted a group so that it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own unique hue. There were five acres of flowers.

"Who did this?" I asked Carolyn. "Just one woman," Carolyn answered. "She lives there." Carolyn pointed to a well-kept A-frame house, small and modestly sitting in the midst of all that glory. We walked up to the house.

On the porch was a poster:

Answers to the questions I know you are asking

  1. 50,000 bulbs
  2. One at a time, by one woman. Two hands, two feet, one brain.
  3. Began in 1958

For me, that moment was a life-changing experience. I thought of this woman who, almost fifty years before, had begun to bring her vision of beauty and joy to an obscure mountaintop. Planting one bulb at a time, year after year, this unknown woman had forever changed the world in which she lived. One day at a time, she had created something of extraordinary magnificence, beauty, and inspiration. The principle her daffodil garden taught is one of the greatest principles of celebration.

That is, learning to move toward our goals and desires one step at a time - often just one baby-step at time - and learning to love the doing, learning to use the compounding of time. When we multiply tiny pieces of time with small increments of daily effort, we can change the world.

"It makes me sad in a way," I admitted to Carolyn. "What might I have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal thirty-five or forty years ago and had worked away at it 'one bulb at a time' through all those years? Just think what I might have been able to achieve!"
My daughter summed up the message of the day in her usual direct way. "Start tomorrow," she said. She was right. It's so pointless to think of the lost hours of yesterdays. The way to make learning a lesson of celebration instead of a cause for regret is to only ask, "How can I put this to use today?"

Use the Daffodil Principle.

Stop waiting.....
Until your car or home is paid off
Until you get a new car or home
Until your kids leave the house
Until you go back to school
Until you finish school
Until you clean the house
Until you organize the garage
Until you clean off your desk
Until you lose 10 lbs.
Until you gain 10 lbs.
Until you get married
Until you get a divorce
Until you have kids
Until the kids go to school!
Until you retire
Until summer

Until spring
Until winter
Until fall
Until you die...

There is no better time than right now to be happy.
So work like you don't need money.
Love like you've never been hurt, and,

Dance like no one's watching.

Don't be afraid that your life will end, be afraid that it will never begin.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Clients Who Have Disabilities – What Do You Say? And How Do You Say It?

There's been an interesting conversation recently on Active Rain that's worth sharing here. Active Rain is the online community and blogging platform for real estate professionals. My post about making my own appointments generated many comments; one came from Nancy who pointed out some less-than sensitive terms we were using. We learned that she Nancy is a consumer who visits Active Rain to learn from the professionals before she puts her own house on the market.

Nancy's comments started a discussion about how we all need to be aware of the effect of the words we use and the way we address people with disabilities; there is an important difference between "wheelchair bound" and "wheelchair user." But as Nancy pointed out, "People with disabilities and their families are tuned in to language that they hear as discriminatory or insensitive. Wheelchair users are not bound to their chairs. With or without help they leave their chairs to sleep, bathe, use the toilet, drive or ride in cars, enjoy amusement park rides."

My years as a Registered Nurse have always helped me be sensitive to the special needs of my clients, but even so I needed to learn not to refer to someone as "restricted to a wheelchair." This is such an important subject that I asked Nancy to write a guest blog, which she did, and we posted it on Active Rain. I believe it's important enough to repeat it here. Please welcome her.

One in Five Americans Lives with a Person with a Disability. Are you ready?

One in five U.S. residents lives with a person with a disability. How many are your clients? Do you embrace the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) or tolerate it?

I'm a consumer, seller-to-be, and regular reader who sometimes comments on ActiveRain. I also live with a person with a disability. I have been invited by Margaret Rome to offer some insight to real estate professionals on how to interact with people with disabilities. I am under no illusion that I am an expert, but am opening up the subject hoping some of you will want to learn more. Thank you Margaret, for the opportunity.

Only 15% of persons with a disability were born with that disability. That means that 85% of disabilities are acquired during a person's lifetime. It could happen to you or a family member. It could happen tomorrow. Yes, that's right. A car accident, brain tumor, stroke. It could happen tomorrow.

If you or someone you love suddenly became disabled, how would you want to be treated?

Language is a place to start, like saying "wheelchair user" instead of "wheelchair bound," "disabled" instead of "handicapped," and referring to the person instead of the disability. Here's an example. Instead of saying "my handicapped client", say "my client who has (name disability)". Do you see the difference? Your client is a person who has a disability. It may seem awkward at first because it takes extra words, but it makes a difference in how you are heard. Also, it may seem obvious, but don't exclude your client with a disability from the conversation by addressing your statements to another person who is with him. Your client is probably not deaf or stupid. If your language, attitude, or discomfort is perceived by your client or his family as being discriminatory or just ignorant, you could lose the client. Now you might be thinking that you would not mind losing that client; he makes you uncomfortable. His home may require an accommodation that could be hard to find, and that extra time could be more profitably spent on an easier sale.

Think again. First, because you make yourself vulnerable to a discrimination lawsuit. But more important to your business, people with disabilities are a growing part of the consumer population.

Think back a generation or more. There weren't many long-term survivors of serious accidents or illnesses. People who lived longer than average may have lived in a care facility or did not leave their home often. They were not very active participants in the consumer world.

That model no longer applies. Modern medicine, the ADA , and the internet have changed things. The potential client base of people with disabilities is huge. Based on data from a U.S. census report of 2004, and a 2000 Cornell University study, here are some interesting numbers:

  • 17.2% or 43 million US citizens aged 16-64 report some form of employment-limiting disability.
  • Approximately 55% of persons with disabilities aged 16-64 are employed.
  • The over 65 population currently holds the largest disposable income in the country.

I do not have statistics on the number of disabled young men and women coming home from the Middle East. Do you think many of them will be looking to buy a home? Does this client base now sound more attractive to you?

None of this is intended to criticize. I just hope that I started you thinking, and that a lively discussion will follow.

If there is interest, I will follow up with specific suggestions on how you, as an individual and a professional, can learn to be more aware, use the preferred terms, and at least not do the wrong thing. Your local disability services organizations will be happy to provide education and answer questions for your brokerage.

Thanks for reading.
Nancy J - Kenosha , Wisconsin

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Appointments or Disappointments? Why I Make My Own

Every once in a while, when I'm talking with another real estate agent, the subject of appointments comes up. When I say that I always – yes, always – make my own appointments, I can almost predict what will happen. The eyes widen, the brow furrows, there's a quick intake of breath, and then, "You're kidding!"

No, I'm not. "But doesn't it waste your time?" they ask.

Showing the wrong house to the wrong buyer, that wastes my time. Making my own appointments saves time and aggravation for me and my listing clients. How can this one task make a big difference? Here are just a few of the issues that I can and do clear up before I show a listing to a potential buyer. And yes, I've actually had all of these and more:


  • The condo restricts pets; they have a dog and a cat. No, you can't sneak them in.
  • The prospective buyer is 93 years old, and the unit I have listed is on the top floor. There are no elevators.
  • A condo with no balcony – not a good match for someone with claustrophobia.
  • A penthouse unit – a bad idea for someone afraid of heights.
  • The buyer is restricted to a wheel chair. Would you show them a split-level house?
  • The family wants all bedrooms on the same level. Why would I show them a Cape Cod?

Missing Information:

  • The buyers haven't talked to a lender yet because they want to wait until they find something they like. What's the chance I could be showing them houses they can't afford?
  • My listing is a co-op. The by-laws require the unit must be purchased for cash – there can be no mortgage. If we haven't discussed this first, it would be no surprise when the buyer asks if the monthly fee "includes the mortgage payment."
  • My client's condo has high monthly fees. The prospective buyer didn't ask before seeing the property (and his agent didn't tell, obviously). Then he asks if we can negotiate the fees down along with the price. Um…sure, right along with the property taxes.

And then there are the "must haves":

  • Attached garage – it's safer that way. No – that's too dangerous, the garage has to be separate.
  • The fireplace must be wood burning. The fireplace must be gas. No fireplace – it's not safe.
  • Must have a swimming pool. Absolutely no swimming pool!
  • The house must be on a main road with sidewalks and nearby neighbors. No, the house must be secluded, away from prying neighbors.
  • The townhouse kitchen has to be at the front so I don't have to schlep groceries through the house. Who wants a kitchen at the front? We need a kitchen in the back so we can walk out on the deck.

And on and on. You get the idea. There are so many ways that well-meaning home sellers and prospective buyers can waste their time and energy. Over the years I've learned that the one best way to eliminate these issues is to make my own appointments and ask the questions up front. That way I can assure my sellers that I will only bring qualified buyers into their home.