I LOVE my job – It’s got adventure, variety, and the deep satisfaction of helping people find their perfect-for-them home.
Last month put that love to the test though, I’ve gotta say. From every angle, side, and corner, various Boogiemen leapt from the shadows.
Here are a couple of general examples of conversations that may or may not have happened recently.
Client: “Hi, Tina?”
Me: “Hi, how are you?”
Client: “Hurry!!! I NEED to see this house RIGHT NOW!!!!”
Me: “Umm… you know people still live in it and need some notice, right? They might have babies napping or–”
Client: “–I don’t care! I’m parked outside of their house right now! Get over here!”
Me: *bangs head on desk*
Me: “Hi. My client would like to make an offer on your listing”
Agent: “We already have someone else interested.”
Me: “Uh… it’s for sale, is it not?”
Agent: “Yes, but they don’t want offers.”
Me: (I wonder if the agent is blocking offers from other buyers so they can double end the deal… His clients wouldn’t appreciate that. Too bad they’ll never know. Man, I can’t wait until they make that illegal (like they are about to in Ontario.) In the meantime…
Me: “Okay, I’ll bring an offer. My buyer will pay every dollar the seller is asking and then some.”
Agent: “Go ahead, but they’re not going to take it.”
Me: *bangs head on desk*
But then there was the buyer who said something shocking to me this week.
We’d been working together to find them a house, and it was… difficult. They did not have access to internet and that felt crippling. They’d had a nightmarish, stressful relationship with the builder of their home right from day one. For years, that stress robbed them of the joy of living in their custom built home. Now they just wanted out.
Because of their worn-down, stressful state, they were not only deeply sad and exhausted, but also in a desperate hurry. Not a good combination. They had three weeks to find a new house.
That’s like giving yourself ten minutes for a 1-hour grocery shop. It’s insane. Like, reality TV, run through the aisles like a madman, plowing down women and children kind of crazy.
So here we were. Dashing like madmen.
Whose hair was on fire.
The hardest part for me was seeing how the anxiety had pulled their faces into hard lines over the years. They weren’t the most expressive people, and I’d never seen them smile. Not once. Years of annoyance can make a person cranky and it made me sad that their home-owning experience had done that.
Plus, knowing they would probably settle, desperate for a new house, I was sad they would likely repeat the disappointing experience of owning a home they didn’t want.
We hunted. Looked at loads of houses. In person.
When we finally came across the one that struck them as home, I was excited because I knew something about it they didn’t.
“Ah, I know the guy who built that house. He’s a new, young builder trying hard to please people. He does quality work and treats people well.” I said.
That was all they needed to know – that they’d be treated well for once.
The buying process was difficult – sometimes it seems like agents don’t want to sell their listings, and this was one of those times. After working and working at it though, we did manage to get the house.
* * *
One week after the couple moved into their new home, I was walking up their sidewalk to check in. (They appreciated the personal face-to-face approach.) As I neared the front door, I wondered if this stressed out, anxious, desperate couple with their faces pulled in hard lines would have anything good to say about our working together. Had it been pleasant at all? Would they feel they had been treated well or that the whole thing was worth it?
With all these thoughts swirling in my mind, I rang the bell. The door opened, and there stood before me a woman I almost didn’t recognize. Where before a permanent frown had been carved into her face now shone a relaxed, upturned smile. Her eyes that had looked dead and empty now seemed to shine, almost laugh.
I mentally willed my mouth not to gape open in shock. “How’s the new house?” I asked.
That’s when she said what I never thought I’d hear from her.
Her smile expanded into a full out grin. “It feels like home.” She sighed and her eyes went dreamy, “I’m happy.”
I nearly cried on the spot. “Wow – after a week it’s feeling like home already?”
“From the first day it felt like home.” She raised a palm to her chest as though speaking of a loved one, “Tina, the chains have come off and we are free. … I’m happy. So happy. The grandchildren love it here too!”
I almost burst into tears. She was happy?
That moment was worth every difficult, head-banging, hair-pulling moment before it.
THIS. This is why I do what I do. This is why I love working as a real estate agent.
I floated back to my car and through the rest of my week, grateful for the reminder, blessed by the satisfaction of having helped someone and then being able to see that dramatic transformation.
These are the moments that fuel us through the hard days, aren’t they?
What one memory or thought keeps you going through your hair-pulling days?
We all face obstacles.
A controlling parent, a cheating colleague, lying clients, or a bullying boss.
When you’re in it, especially if stress and difficulty come from multiple sides, it can feel like the most miserable isolation. But the truth is that none of us is alone. We all struggle.
So what do you do when the pressure becomes relentless and you start to feel like you’re drowning in negativity?
You don’t drown in water by being in it. You drown in water by staying in it.
-Edwin Louis Cole
Many years ago, I was in just such a place – drenched in deep, extreme negativity. The enormous personal stress resulted in my losing 50lbs in a month. I couldn’t eat – my body wouldn’t allow it. My insides felt shaky – like I’d swallowed a phone stuck on vibrate. And all I could think about was the very difficult circumstance that was turning my heart inside out.
Then something happened that changed my life.
A friend noticed and did something. She saw what a mess I was and how it was damaging my body.
“You need to go to a doctor!” she said.
I insisted that I didn’t – that I could handle it. She insisted more though, and made me go. She drove me to the doctor’s office. She sat with me in the room. She forced me to get help.
And it rescued me.
Most of the stress and difficulty we face in our work and relationships isn’t that extreme. But it’s critical to recognize when we’re maxed out on stress and negativity, and to take action before we make things worse – for others and for ourselves.
How to Recharge in the Face of Obstacles
Be Your Own Friend
I was lucky that time to have a friend not only notice, but then help me initiate change.
We can’t wait for a masked hero to arrive though. Most of the time we have to be our own friend, noticing that we are a mess and that something has to give.
Give Yourself Permission
I don’t know why we find it so hard to give ourselves permission to be wounded; to feel hurt. I’ve got news for you: humans hurt, hearts break, and we’re not robots who can flick a switch to make it all stop.
Healing can only happen when we realize we need it.
Needing help does not mean you’re weak. In fact, it’s what’s going to strengthen you. Admitting your wounds is itself an act of strength and the next step to progress – no guilt required. Give yourself permission to need help.
There is a time to take a break. When you’re slammed from all different sides, it’s tough to pull out a smile. We have to recognize when our bodies, emotions, thoughts need a break.
When we are in a bad mental state, we’re probably not the most effective in our work and relationships anyway. We need to invest in our own well being with the gift of a rest.
Let It Look Different
Know that your rest and recharge time doesn’t have to look like sunbathing on a beach in Cancun.
It doesn’t have to be two weeks long. Do and be what refreshes you.
For some, it’s going to be retreating to a cabin with a stack of romance novels. Or others it looks like camping out in a recliner for a few days, refusing to cook or clean, so their body can heal.
Recently, I took a break to recharge, and spent that time attending classes, learning online, brainstorming my brand positioning, and product development. That – especially the brand positioning and marketing – is what revives my motivation. It refreshes my confidence in my abilities to excel, and fires me up to work with renewed gusto.
What refreshes you will be different than what works for others and that’s okay.
I’m curious – how to you recharge when facing obstacles?
It was the end of a long, frazzled day.
Showings here, demanding clients there, and a list of time-sensitive tasks that needed to be done ‘asap or else’ had chased me to the end of my time.
But there was one more to go.
That evening I met with an older couple, in their eighties, to show them a house.
I had no idea the surprise that awaited.
We walked into the vacant 1960’s home with its original wood doors and trim stained that awful kaka yellow. The countertops were original too, with their brightly colored laminate. It was one of those moments where, for just the teensiest split second, I was sorry I could see. Amazingly, the home had not been updated at all. It felt like we had stepped back in time.
While this modern-day REALTOR® was shaking her head, wondering how such a severely outdated place like that would sell, my elderly clients had other thoughts. They caressed the laminate counter tops and wood door frames.
“Look at this – they have wood doors!” She said to her husband.
“Oooh, yes,” he said, coming up beside her and running a hand along the door also.
They did that in almost every room. It was sweet and also a bit weird. But it was the era they came from, and, outside of museums, they probably hadn’t seen such a well preserved 1960s relic in decades. I imagined I might likewise caress metal window casings or rustic log furniture one day. And if I did, I hoped it would be sweet too.
“How much is it? And does it have a basement?” The husband asked. We’d talked about it a few times, but he was forgetful.
“It’s $215,000. And yes, it has a basement.” She answered politely, as though it was the first time he’d asked. “The door to the basement is by the kitchen.”
“Ah, $215,000. Okay.” He walked over to the door by the kitchen and opened it. “Is this it?”
“No,” she said, “that’s a closet.”
“Oh! A closet! How lovely!” he said, and closed the door. “Where’s the basement then?”
Without a sigh, grimace, or any single sign of impatience, she walked over to him and showed him where the door was.
“Oh! A basement! How lovely.” He said, “And how much is it?”
Her patience with him seemed limitless. She calmly answered his questions several times over, each time as though it was the first they’d spoken of it. There was no, ‘Remember??’ or “I already told you”. There was no exasperated head shakes or eye rolls. In no way did she ever shame or embarrass him or even seem impatient or inconvenienced at all.
Her response stunned and humbled me.
I imagined, in her position, I would definitely let a sigh escape if I had to do that all day every day. I found myself wanting to be more like her.
They didn’t end up taking the house, which I think is great because it means I get to spend more time with them looking at others. They’ll look at houses, and I’ll look at them.
Which made me realize something else.
No matter what we’re doing – no matter how mundane or unimportant or invisible the task at hand, there is always someone watching – someone noticing how we live and respond. And hopefully, what they see is something that inspires them. Or encourages them. Or just makes their day a bit brighter.
Vans and semis zoomed past me on the highway shoulder.
I sighed and dialed my client. “I’m sorry – I’m going to be quite late for the showing. I’m stranded with a flat tire.”
We can’t choose what happens to us. We do get to choose how we’ll respond though.
I could choose to be angry about the guy who fixed my tire last, or whoever left nails on the highway.
I wondered how my client would respond. He’d really wanted to see that house today.
“Where are you?” he asked. When I told him, he said he’d drive out and fix my tire.
I couldn’t believe it. Within a half hour, he arrived, fixed the tire, and off we went to the showing. My hero.
It was an additional bonus for me that he wrote an offer on that house and it was accepted.
The funny thing was that it wasn’t the only time I was rescued by the kindness of a client or stranger.
There was the frozen winter day when I had just finished listing my client’s country property and was about to leave. But my tire was flat. I was stuck. Again. Before I could even call someone about it, the man of the house noticed, and just took care of it. The wind was biting, and snow felt like ice pellets, but he rescued me anyway. I was so grateful.
Another time, I went to show a brand-new house in a new neighbourhood in Oakbank. It was my listing and the person who asked to see it was a complete stranger to me. Just before arriving, I got my car lodged in a snowbank by the road right in front of the house.
We could have done the showing while waiting for a tow truck. Instead, this complete stranger started pushing my vehicle. Immediately one of the neighbours showed up too. It didn’t take long for them to free my vehicle from the snowbank. Their kindness blew me away.
Stuff happens. Sometimes a lot of stuff and all at once.
It can wear us down, making us bitter or jaded.
Life’s hard, and bitterness is contagious.
That’s why it’s so important to celebrate the awesome stuff. We’ve got to consciously choose gratitude and hope every day, and remember the good things.
If you’ve ever struggled to find something to smile about, or if your faith in humanity is lacking, this is the remedy. Remember the good stuff. Be thankful. And celebrate them often.
Being a rural real estate agent is a big, weird adventure.
Icy country roads are a regular threat.
Moccasins are part of my winter attire.
And then there was the time I nearly got shot.
My real estate agent career is riddled with stories. One in particular haunts me every now and then. I’d been on the hunt for properties for my client when I came across one I thought she’d be interested in. It was an old 1-1/2 storey, and it was vacant, in the process of being repossessed by the bank.
“Yes, you can see it,” they’d said, “but you’ll want to bring flashlights.” We’d been warned.
The first thing we noticed when we arrived at the property was the pile of broken drywall and lumber just beside the house. Before walking into the house, I asked, ‘You’ve got your flashlight?”
“Sure do.” She smiled and waved it.
“Okay,” I smiled too, “Let’s go!” I felt a wave of excitement as I turned the knob, but also a twinge of fear. I’d been to enough vacant, abandoned, and rental properties to know unpleasant surprises sometimes await us.
We entered to discover, thankfully, that most possessions had been cleared out. Even some of the light bulbs. That seemed overly thorough, I thought. I was glad the smell of mildew and cat litter was only faint.
Scanning the living room, it was clear someone had been renovating. Whether things were pulled apart or being put back together though, neither of us could tell. Across the room, one wall featured a smattering of painted images, from clowns to fairies. The painting skill was definitely there, but the sense of interior décor was definitely not.
“Why don’t we check out the basement?” I suggested, hoping to save the upstairs, which I assumed was the best of the floors, for last. She agreed, and we headed for the basement door.
I opened the old wooden door to the basement and, though I knew there was no hydro, was still surprised by the darkness of the stairwell. We clicked on our flashlights and headed down the old plank steps, guiding ourselves with a hand on the concrete wall.
Suddenly a cobweb strung across my face. I tried not to sound panicked as I clawed it away with both hands. Without a hand on the wall or pointing my light, I nearly lost my balance there in the dark.
As we descended, the musty litter smell intensified. In the darkness beside me, I heard her hold her breath. We stood at the bottom landing and pierced the darkness with our beams of light. Low ceiling. One large room. Concrete floors. Dingy.
“Yeah… I’m good.” She said, and hurried back upstairs.
Once back on the main floor, we headed to the stairway to check out the upper floor. They looked rickety. Dirty too. I was the REALTOR®, though, so went first. I gripped the wooden banister and it wriggled in my hand. I froze, looked back at my client, and said, ‘Careful…” and shook it again. How the poor banister had been worked into such a state, neither of us could imagine.
Despite it being mid-afternoon, daylight did little to brighten the house. With flashlights in hand, and feeling rather sleuth-like, we crept gingerly up the stairs. My heart pounded a bit faster as the carpeted steps snapped and popped beneath our weight. The banister continued to wobble. Instinctively, we each put a hand on the wall and moved a little faster.
The second floor was dark. Our small beams of light revealed the space to be vacant except for an overturned cardboard box, and a broken chair in one corner. The carpet throughout appeared to have had sand or gravel ground into it. I shuddered, glad to be wearing shoes. As the floor creaks echoed in the empty rooms, she moved to a bedroom window and inspected it.
“I don’t know…” she sighed and shook her head. “I wanted a fixer upper, but this place needs more than I really want to give it.” She shone her light at the floor and ground the carpet with the tip of her shoe. It made a crunching sound. “And what is that? Not only does the place need a lot of work, but it’s also pretty gross and creepy. I’m about done.”
“No problem. I’m glad to get out of here myself.” I shivered, remembering the cob web.
She cocked her head to the side, seeming to suddenly notice the closet door. “I love those old glass knobs.” We both shone a light on it as she approached. She cradled the knob gently in her palm before giving it a twist. She pulled the door open and shrieked. I jumped, startled.
“What is WITH this place?!”
I hurried over to see. There, in the beams of our lights, stood an old metal trunk. Atop the trunk sat a small plastic person, staring back at us, wide-eyed.
“Wow. Yeah, I’m about done too.” I said.
In moments, we had slapped the door closed, creaked and popped our way down the rickety stairs with our little flashlights, and exited into the rubble-filled yard.
Maybe we’d both seen too many scary movies. Maybe it was the ugliest doll in the creepiest place that got to us. I only know the place gave us both the willies. I wouldn’t trade it though. After all, what’s life without some adventure?
The phone rang. It was a past client.
“My marriage is over…” She explained they’d decided to end it, and wanted me to list their house.
I was able to head over to her place right away. Before hanging up though, I encouraged her to rethink the separation. “Relationships are more important to me than transactions.”
“No, it won’t work. We need to sell and end it.”
“Okay, I’m on my way.”
On the drive, I prayed. For wisdom. For their relationship. That healing could happen.
At the house, they both waited for me, and together we three signed the papers and listed their house. They didn’t really want to sell it. They had custom built their dream house only a few years prior. But it was unthinkable to stay after ending the marriage. It had to go.
It was a peaceful meeting. They were not angry and yelling as some do, instead they seemed quietly resigned to the story unfolding this way.
As we passed papers around and signed on lines, I said, “Just so you know, you’re not locked in here. You can change your mind. All you have to do is say the word and we’ll withdraw it from the market. No questions asked. You don’t owe me an explanation.”
They thanked me, and I proceeded to market the property.
Two weeks later they emailed, asking to withdraw the listing.
I drove over to their house to sign a different set of papers. This meeting was peaceful too, but hope hung in the air.
Afterward, he walked me to the door. “We want to make our marriage work.”
I smiled. “I’m so glad.”
I didn’t regret for a moment the money I spent to market their house (and by then I’d spend quite a bit already).
Now I see them having fun together, posting smiley photos of them together at Jets games and eating out with friends, and I am so thankful. I’d much rather see their happiness and success than a sold sign.
Divorce happens. Sometimes it needs to.
But sometimes it doesn’t need to.
Their courage to try again is something I greatly admire.
When I arrived, I found her hunched over a box, in tears.
She had been packing, getting ready to list her house. Well, their house.
They had lived there for decades. Now the marriage had come apart at the seams, and she was left to tie up the loose ends. She would pack up the house and ready it for sale.
It looked like about the hardest thing she’d ever had to do.
There, with tears still streaming down her cheeks, she held a stack of photos in one hand and a wad of tissues in the other. She still wore her wedding ring.
When someone in a happy marriage looks through photos, it’s a refreshing, satisfying time of reminiscing. Laughter and tears of joy accompany the cozy memories. But when a person is in the midst of separation – especially one they don’t want to happen – it is anything but cozy. Each memory stabs the heart, leaving a gaping ache for what will never be again.
I’ve been there. I know the deep grief of separation.
As I put a hand on her shoulder, a fresh wave of tears flowed from her eyes. Her head hung as though a weight were tied to it.
As I scanned the room I realized she would never get the house packed in time without some help. Little was packed, even less was cleaned. Grief overwhelms. At that point, a simple task like putting photos in a box or sweeping the floor can be too much to even think about, much less accomplish.
Just then, she looked up at the wall and sighed a heavy, hollow sigh.
I followed her gaze to a photo on the wall. There, in an ornately carved wooden frame, their wedding photo hung, looking as though nothing had changed since the day it was taken.
After a moment of thought, I removed my hand from her shoulder, walked over to the photo, and lifted it from the wall. For a second, I felt like an art thief.
“Let me help you,” I said, looking back at her for any sign of disapproval. Her mouth parted slightly, as though to speak. Then she closed her eyes, nodded, and hung her head for the next wave of tears.
The offending photo was turned to face the wall, and tucked behind the sofa. Then, together, we packed a few boxes.
“See if you can get some friends to help you with this,” I suggested, “It’s a huge job on a good day but it’s overwhelming and feels impossible when you’re going through separation. You need help.”
She nodded and, before I left, called some friends to help her pack up what was left of her married life.
People sell their homes for all kinds of reasons, but there is a unique dynamic when the sale is due to a separation. And it raises all kinds of issues for everyone – the sellers, buyers, and the agents caught in the middle.
Oddly, no one really talks about it.
Which is why I’ve written this series of posts about selling due to separation. It’s important to talk about it so we can understand when the issues come up, and know what to do about it. Maybe we’ll have some compassion or be able to avoid surprise attacks if we’re aware.
Wherever I’ve been, professionally or personally, it’s been because God has led me there. Helping sellers in the midst of separation is just another such opportunity I see Him giving me. I am not afraid of crisis. Lord knows I’ve had my share of it. And I’m honored that He uses me to serve others in their own crises. Whether it’s to help sell a house, pack boxes, or just pull a photo off the wall.
If you haven’t read Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I’ll give you a quick primer on who Tom Sawyer is. Basically, he’s imaginative, making everything fancy and “high faluting”. He touches even the simplest things with an air of magic.
And had he grown up and built a house, this would be it.
Tom never outgrew his boyish love of playful surprises, and crafted a giant tree house for him and his family in a way never-before seen.
Only he could send vaulted ceilings soaring high over grand rooms while the space below possessed a palpable warmth. It is at once spacious and cozy, sharp yet comfortable. It’s the kind of grand home where a sophisticated adult can host parties. The kind of cozy family cottage where children climb trees, scrape knees, and collect a life time of memories. Perhaps even build a raft.
I’m sure Tom would have driven his wife crazy with his all-consuming dedication to detail.
He madly experimented with architecture, creating unexpected angles in surprising places. The bath and shower are not merely an appliance in Tom’s imaginings, no. They are an opportunity to create a sprawling spa beneath a tall window and steeply angled wall, amidst elegant slate tiles.
Standing in the kitchen, you find yourself in the very heart of the grand cabin. Rustic wood cabinets and black metal handles ground the room in the cozy, rustic feel of a tree house. Even the light fixtures slink long and low, adorned with carved leaves as though hanging like vines.
Tom left no detail unexplored. Like a skilled artist, he crafted surprising angles in unexpected places. The heavy, rich wood doors. Even arched windows.
And finally, perhaps as his own personal cove in which to read endlessly, he added a loft in his bedroom, the perfect place to tuck away his library and office. And, as he climbed the tree house ladder rungs to his hideaway, he doubtless relived childhood memories of his adventures with Huck.
So where would he build such a grand tree house?
At the end of a wooded lane, of course, where woods lay ripe for his own children to explore and invent their own adventures.
(Tour Tom’s house here.)
They were happy.
Married, healthy, and earning a comfortable income, they enjoyed life, their home, and each other.
Then it happened.
Strange symptoms started to show up. Finally bothered, nagged, and mystified enough, he went to the doctor to find out what was going on. A diagnosis followed, and the prognosis wasn’t good. He was slated for surgery.
Many long months of treatments followed the surgery. She made herself available to be his personal, stand-by nurse after the surgery and during treatments.
They couldn’t go out.
Few came to visit.
The isolation was crushing. No one knew the emotional and mental anguish they suffered at the hands of his physical disabilities, or how trapped they both felt inside the walls of their own home.
Years passed this way. They robotically dragged themselves through each day of his long and slow recovery. Thankfully though, recovery did come. He was able to care for his own physical needs. They could leave the house and be among people. Both were miraculously able to return to work.
They were happy again, but something had changed.
The years had made their home into a prison cell. Now, despite his recovery, every room in that house reminded them of the hardest years of their lives. Every day the memories of that dark time haunted them.
They needed a fresh start somewhere else and to make new memories in a new home.
That’s when they called me and we began the search together.
Sometimes we need to bloom where we’re planted, even in a bed of weeds. Other times, it’s necessary to move on.
Reasons people have for buying and selling their homes are as varied as the people themselves.
I’ll never tire of the honor of hearing people’s stories. I especially can’t get enough of helping people through this highly personal experience of buying and selling the places where we make memories that last a lifetime.
What new chapter of your life are you starting this fall?
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The Modern Day Castle
I discovered a castle in Manitoba.
Royalty has never lived in it, and it doesn’t have the storybook towers or dungeons. No, this is a modern castle for the modern family.
I can see it now.
The damsel pulls up in her modern carriage, a Fiat perhaps, and parks in any one of three garage stalls.
Soon her strapping prince arrives home and greets her in the majestic entrance. He glances across the gleaming walnut floors to see their toddler crawling toward him. He swoops the young lad into his arms.
This evening they dine by the hearth, warmed by the snapping fire. Afterward, side by side, they clean up supper while the little one plays at their feet. Dinnerware is stacked behind tall maple doors and dry goods returned to the well-stocked walk in pantry. When they’re through, the granite counters glisten like diamonds.
After dinner, their plans might involve enjoying a movie night in the media room or hosting a party in their beautiful back yard.
Tonight though, the damsel puts the little one to bed and returns to the great room. There, she stands in front of the wall of windows overlooking the lake. Moonlight shimmers on the still water. That’s when she catches sight of his tall silhouette at the edge of the deck.
She goes to him and slinks an arm around his waist. He smiles and slips an arm around her shoulders. There, together, they watch a loon soar silently across the moonlit sky.
Happily ever after, complete with lakeside views and moonlit nights are here for the taking. Even right here in Niverville.