One client’s tale

#509 in a series of true experiences in real estate
April 2006, Hills Newspapers

As I was writing newspaper ads, the fax line was ringing. What arrived was a note from the owner of our newest listing. It’s been a hard few weeks for the sellers Dunbar Ogden and his wife Annegret. To answer his question, few of our customers have become ill during buying or selling. But we do find it mysterious that our listings invariably spring a plumbing leak of some sort just before, or sometimes during, marketing.

Dear Pat & Anet,

In your professional experience, how often does the seller and the buyer each come down with some awful disease during the move? Or incur an injury?

I’d bet: ALWAYS.

Why? This is one of the greatest mysteries in the whole real estate business, isn’t it. When you think about it. And does that disease (or injury) reveal something important about the person? In your mind’s eye picture for yourself each of your past customers. Shocking, isn’t it. How every single one of them came down with something.

Didn’t they? This means that when you are talking with a person who wishes to buy a home, or to sell his, and you are settling on a price or negotiating a price, and then walking through the paperwork with him, and calling in an army of termite people, inspectors, painters, roofers, packers, craters, truckers, cleaners and window washers, somewhere in the middle of all that your customer is a person who is coming down with an awful cold or who has just pulled out – a little too far – a drawer full of household tools and dropped it on his foot. Thus you find yourself day after day with a customer required to make myriad intimate decisions and a handful of earthshaking decisions who is not quite in his right mind. Moody, physically shaky, mentally blocked, erratic, unable to think clearly, just not himself.

Let me tell you my story.

My wife and I downsized. We bought a small apartment. We moved four bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms (plus a study, plus a family room) – 3500 square feet crammed with forty-five years of the paper work and memorabilia of writers-teachers – into two bedrooms and one bathroom, 1200 square feet. And what was the first thing we did after buying the apartment. WATCH OUT. Here comes the first clue to subsequent events.

Does the Realtors’ Bible contain chapter and verse on this mystery? Are customers aware that in addition to shedding some money, they’ll be shedding some sanity? Do realtors know that about their customers?

What was the first thing we did after acquiring the little empty apartment? We went out and bought a king-size Japanese bed made in China. And what was the second thing we did? We bought a sofa bed.

And I came down with the worst flu I have ever had in my life. For six days I lay dormant on my king-size bed, breathing shallowly, a mindless, desiccated hulk of my old self, while you two and my wife directed the army of termite people, inspectors, painters, roofers, packers, craters, truckers, cleaners, and window washers. It gave my wife the chance to go through and throw out most of my clothes – things she hated, or said “You never wear them.”

On the phone my Registered Nurse sister-in-law said there’s a pulmonary infection going around. Then she phoned back to say she’d thought it over and decided it was probably a heart attack. This increased my wife’s sympathy level but did zilch for my participation in the move. I decided I preferred to meet My Maker from under the soft wraps of my bedding rather than under the hard chest raps of a couple of 911 ambulance medics. Meanwhile on my Japanese-Chinese bed I twisted with feelings of extreme guilt at not holding up my part of the bargain. Still this was not some self-inflicted injury like shooting yourself in the toe to get out of the draft. This flu had struck from outside.

I writhed between guilt and anxieties about someone’s losing the checkbook or damaging my wood carving I had brought back years ago from a visit to East Germany. “You always want to control everything,” my wife tosses over her shoulder as she passes by the bedroom door. And, truth to tell, I did sigh easier with feelings of relief at not having to participate in all those agonizing decisions where each memento has its own little story. I realized sensations of release, too, from my grandmother’s syndrome of “One day this might do someone some good.”

Now with this case study let us return to the great mystery.

When we went out and bought two beds (one even king-size) before we did anything else, did I have some deep premonition that throughout the moving process I would spend the entire time on one of them? Please note that control-freak me had even gone and gotten a flu shot a month earlier. Perhaps we are like the animals who prowl around in uncharacteristic behavior before an earthquake. Something in the earth tells them. The animals all left before the last Tsunami.

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