Tools of the trade

#640 in a series of true experiences in real estate
April 2012, Hills Newspapers

Anet likes things mechanical, and the tools to work with them, so she’s the one who stocks the car trunk with everything we might possibly need for listings. Once when my car was stolen (the car we drove most often), her well-considered stash went with it. And, although she was certainly sad about the loss of the car, I think she pined more for her tools and supplies.

We never got the car or the contents back, which was too bad, but it gave Anet the chance to restock. For days she perfected her lists of items we must have again. She bought new pliers of various sorts and sizes, screwdrivers, hammer and a plumber’s wrench, and packed them into a nifty new canvas case. She added a measuring tape, utility knife, flashlight, nails, picture hangers, electrical and duct tape, and a few wood screws.

Although she doesn’t carry it routinely, if Anet knows she’ll be needing it for a specific task such as hanging smoke detectors, she adds to the car trunk a portable drill/screwdriver. She refers to it always as “my DeWalt.” She acquired this treasured possession within hours of seeing a contractor friend using one of his own. Thrilled by what this powerful, lightweight tool is capable of, she hopped into the car and sped away to buy one for herself.

A collection of light bulbs is also with us at all times: more 60 watt than any other, but also a few 100 watt, and at least one 200 watt bulb. It’s the “sixties” that are needed most often, and each time Anet uses one, she is scrupulous about replacing it. Not having what she needs is anathema to her.

Once, as a matter of fact, because we had switched cars and didn’t have the light bulb stash with us, Anet found herself in need of “a hundred” to light a basement stairwell. It was Sunday open house day and people were already arriving. They were about to descend those dark stairs.

Oh, woe, what was Anet to do? She was considering the distance to the nearest retail source of light bulbs when an agent friend fortuitously arrived at the front door. Anet leaped to greet her: “You’re an agent. You must have a hundred watt light bulb in your trunk, right?” The friend nodded that indeed she did, and the two of them went outside to get it. Problem solved. I guess every agent must always carry light bulbs.

Toilet paper, too. There is an obvious need for toilet paper and, especially in vacant houses, seldom any to be found. Paper towels, a wedge-shaped door stop and cleaning sprays are in our car as well. And – these are for me – a garden weeder and a pair of hand pruners, plus a large garbage bag – are always with us. This is because, whenever there is a lull in activities; if, for instance, Anet is talking to someone or is fiddling endlessly with a lock; I start weeding whatever garden plot or path is nearby. Sometimes I deadhead plants. I can’t seem to help myself.

Anet brings with her, and puts to frequent good use, Teflon spray in a can. It is very effective on balky door locks. She used to swear by WD-40, but due to a fascinating conversation with a locksmith (quite a bit more fascinating to Anet than to me), she switched. She’s been touting Teflon to anyone who will listen ever since.

There are timers in the car, little ones bought at Home Depot, used for automatically lighting lamps in vacant houses. She puts them in every room that does not have an overhead fixture so that when it starts to get dusky, lights will come on. (I do not grasp how timers are set, and am forever switching lamps on or off at the regular switch. I am therefore pleased that Anet takes charge of this part of real estate.)

She has lock boxes, too: the electronic type supplied by the multiple listing people, and also mechanical ones with push buttons. The first are, of course, for agents to use when showing a house. They’re pretty nifty. The agent merely points his computerized “key” at the box and it opens at the bottom revealing the house key. These days it is even possible to use a cell phone to open the lock box. The agent’s individual code is recorded making it possible for the box owner to know who has been there.

The other type of lock box, purchased from a locksmith shop, we use for workmen. When we need to get painters, stagers and repairmen inside an unoccupied house, we don’t have to meet them there or provide each one with his own key. Instead we put a punch-combination lock box on the property and tell our workmen what the combo is.

There are, at times, signs in our car trunk. In the old days, agents struggled to erect their own sign supports in rock hard dirt. Nowadays, real estate companies contract with a sign post service to dig holes, put up the posts, and hang the signs. We, however, have a clear plastic sign which scratches easily, so we hang our own. We also put up the “riders” on the post cross arm, the signs that say Pending Sale and Open Sunday. (Have you noticed that you hardly ever see a Sold sign? This is because by the time a property is really sold, it’s time to take the sign down.)

We also carry Open House sandwich signs, but only on the days we are holding a house open. The rest of the time, they’re stored in my garage.

All in all, there is quite a lot of stuff in the trunk, but Anet is very organized, and she takes pride in cleanly and tidily packaging all we could want for. I must remember to ask agent friends to tell me what they’ve got in their car trunks. That would be interesting.

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