Blindsided by a Love for Residential Real Estate

It was the summer of 2006, and I had just moved my family back to Raleigh after a four-year stint in Philly for graduate school. The City of Brotherly Love had sent us home richer in experience but certainly poorer in means. And the return ticket didn’t include a guarantee of gainful employment.

Having tried my hand at a variety of vocations since graduating from the University of North Carolina—including sales for IBM, fundraising, creative copywriting, and coaching—I feebly clung to the hope that our move to Raleigh might carry with it the discovery of a gratifying career path.

With my options dwindling as fast as the balance in our savings account, I enrolled in a real estate class at the encouragement of several trusted friends who believed my relational hard-wiring, gritty work ethic, and natural creativity would be well-suited for the joys and demands of residential brokerage. They were so right.

On January 4, 2008, with barely enough savings to support my family that cold wintry month, I jumped into real estate brokerage. The shoe fit, and boy did it feel good.

When telling my story, I often share with clients that I was “born in the Great Recession.” Its dark clouds loomed on the horizon as I began my career, which from most people’s vantage point could not have been worse timing given how much the housing market would suffer.

But as I love to remind folks, “The benefit was that I didn’t know anything other than a hard market!” I didn’t have the luxury of worrying or listening to reports of doom and gloom. People still had to move. And I had to make a living.

Challenging market conditions disciplined me like a drill-sergeant in boot camp. The year 2008 wasn’t the worst time to become a Realtor. It was the best time.


A Few Background Snippets

The oldest of three siblings, I grew up in High Point, NC in a fun-loving, tight-knit family where home was a constant gathering place for friends and relatives. At age seven I began swimming competitively on a year-round basis…and I haven’t taken off the goggles yet. In 2000 I pulled off the greatest coup of the century by convincing my best friend to say “I do.” Five years later our son Jack made his debut appearance, followed by his brother Luke in 2007, and then our Sarah in 2010. An endless source of joy, laughs, and gentle reminders of our shortcomings, our kiddos are an indescribable gift. They enter 11th, 9th, and 7th grades this year, and neither Anne nor I seem to be able to stay in sync with how quickly they are growing up. When I’m not with clients, hanging with the kids, watching their games, or engaged in my newest passion (triathlon), you’re likely to find me in a nearby coffee shop, either catching up with a good friend or wordsmithing remarks for my next listing.


Constantly Keeping the Person in View

Growing up, Dad would often take me to breakfast before school at a local diner called Alex’s House. Run by two colorful Greek brothers, they’d whip up big plates of scrambled egg whites with crisp bacon and slide them in front of us almost as soon as we walked in the door. Coffee and orange juice in hand, Dad and I would dive right into catching up on the week.

I always loved those breakfasts.

It was over one such plate of egg whites that I distinctly recall a conversation regarding a recent decision Dad had made, one that required our family to live more frugally than we were accustomed.

A popular physician in High Point, Dad had decided to leave a prominent and successful group practice to embark on a solo enterprise. Dad explained that there was little to no financial upside, which to a 16-year old secretly hoping for a new car made about as much sense as vacationing in Antarctica.

But as I quizzed Dad about his decision, I realized that his new venture was consistent with how he’s always practiced medicine.

Over the course of a day, Dad typically sees fewer patients yet works longer hours. He hires superb staff, pays them well, and saves pennies elsewhere. Dad has never advertised, relying instead on word of mouth referrals from his patients…all of whom he knows by name. In fact, to this day Mom, my siblings and I joke that running errands with Dad takes twice as long because he’ll inevitably bump into a dozen of his patients between Home Depot and Target.

So that day at Alex’s House, I asked my dad, the Morehead Scholar whose career options were wide open, why he decided to go this new direction. With a warm smile, his words flowed effortlessly: “I love medicine, and I love caring for my patients. This gives me the opportunity to keep doing what I love.” And he really meant it. Big or small, his professional decisions reflect those two passions to this day.

Over 25 years later, I find myself patterning my real estate profession how my Dad practices medicine.

A client’s decision to move – often prompted by one or more significant life transitions – is at once exciting, stressful, and overwhelming. I like to think of it this way: All the “biggies” we juggle in life – future, finances, career, family, community – are on the table the second we begin contemplating buying and/or selling a home. Sorting through this web of priorities and preferences is an exhausting process, demanded of us in the midst of preparing our home for its market debut, boxing belongings, eating take-out, transferring utilities, and so on.

Helping a client through this process, while constantly keeping the person in view, is what I strive for.


Asking Questions and Actually Listening

Allow me to drop a fancy word on you: phoropter.

Want to conjure a guess? (Hint: if you have imperfect vision, you’ve seen one of these at least once.)

A phoropter is the special instrument through which we peer at the ubiquitous “Big E” chart while our ophthalmologist patiently fine tunes an array of lenses until we finally see the letters with near-perfect, 20/20 clarity.

I can’t think of a better image to describe the heart of my approach with buyers. Finding a home is a process that unfolds in a manner that can’t be rushed, predicted, or manufactured. Much to their delight (and relief), my clients sense this in my demeanor from the outset.

I never stop asking questions and I never stop listening.


Delivering the Wow

Cleaning out your grandparents’ attic, you happen upon an old, rolled-up oil painting, caked in decades of dust and grime. As you carefully unfurl the brittle canvas, your eyes catch a faint cursive signature in the bottom right corner: Claude Monet. Breathless, you pull out your phone, Google “global fine art appraisals,” and buy a plane ticket.

Sure enough, the appraiser thrillingly confirms the painting is an authentic Monet worth tens of millions. Your next phone call is to Christie’s, the great auction house.

You’re hardly surprised by Christie’s recommendations for attracting the highest bidder, the chief among which is engaging an expert in art restoration and conservation to meticulously restore the tarnished masterpiece to its original beauty and splendor.

While the intrinsic value of the Monet may have been clear to the fine art appraiser, common sense tells you that the buying public will be challenged to see past the layers of dirt and residue. They need to be wowed. And the wow delivers top dollar.

We’re experts in delivering the wow.