“I turned the horses out again tonight.”
By Jesse D. Moore
This was the first and last line my father wrote in an article for New York Times Magazine, entitled “Bad Days at ‘Big Dry’” (Aug 14, 1988). He started and ended the article with the same line, a literary device that illustrated the redundancy of the days we lived in during the drought of 1988. Growing up on a cattle ranch in Montana, we would corral the horses in the morning after their feeding. If we didn’t have use for them, we would turn them out. Turning the horses out then was emblematic of not having enough work. That drought never seemed to end, though we woke with a daily hope that things would change for the better.
12 years ago my ex-wife was pregnant with our second child. I was finishing my third year in real estate, having better than average success in a new business. Our goal was to have my business support our family, so that when David was born, Kami could be a stay-at-home mother to our two kids. I was 30 years old and the real estate market was in a steady slide downward. I had to weigh my promise to the mother of my children against the brutal reality of a crashing real estate market.
Whenever things don’t break my way, and I begin to worry about the status of the future, I think back to 2008. I closed three transactions that year, and – after expenses – probably brought home $20,000. With my back against the wall, I had to make a decision.
So I learned how to sell homes in a time when homes didn’t sell. It wasn’t an easy time. No one had heard of a short sale, no one wanted to buy a home in a falling market, and no seller was willing to believe that their value had fallen as much as their neighbors. My value to my clients was in my empathy and understanding, and a desire to help those that seemed to be in helpless situations became the lifeblood of my business.
I was lucky. I’m not always lucky. I’m lucky enough to be able to look back on my 15 years as a real estate agent and see that my best days were born out of my hardest. Last week we saw $40,000 in commissions die without hope of resurrection, and honoring the stay-at-home order, real estate agents can’t show or list homes for the next two weeks. One of my clients can’t make his mortgage payment for April, and we can’t list his home to alleviate his concerns, because contractors can’t make repairs to his home, photographers can’t photograph it, and buyers can’t walk through it.
The last housing recession was a slow and belabored contraction, like a side-ache that didn’t go away for 5 years. In comparison, this is a fast and sudden break, and we’re waiting for the doctor to give us permission to take off the cast to resume normal activities. This isn’t affecting everyone the same, though it feels like more are affected by it all at once.
Last Friday, knowing that a stay-at-home order was imminent, I took my kids on a day-trip through Snohomish County, updating flyers on my listings, talking to my sellers at a 6-foot distance, and talking through the pandemic with my kids. At some point my son asked me about the drought of 1988, and I regaled them with stories of fighting 10 different brushfires at his age that summer. They listened in awe and wonder, trying to imagine fighting fire at their age.
We’ll make it through this. It won’t be easy, but life goes on, and eventually the needle will point the other direction. We will be taking this time to call through our database, to reach out to all of you and see how you are doing. We won’t be asking for your business, but we’ll be happy to answer your questions and we’re going to use whatever resources we have to make sure that no one feels alone. Margaret has started a Facebook group called “Operation: Tungsten Light” to create a community of people that want to break up the monotony of the stay-at-home order through live instructional videos and online performance. I’m writing a class for my brokerage about maintaining a healthy mindset in the face of uncertain times, and we’ll be recording our “Finely Clicked” podcast live on Zoom if you want to sit in or ask us questions.
Until the next time we saddle up and ride…