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Friday, May 28, 2010

My life in real estate: Lessons learned from my mom

If my blogging has seemed sporadic these past few months, bear with me… it’s been a challenging year. In December I had rotator cuff surgery and was typing one-handed for a few months. I finally finished physical therapy in late April – the same week my amazing mother, Becky Jones, passed away unexpectedly.

As you might suspect, I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother these days. She really did live a good and long life – she would have been 88 in September -- but for some reason, it came as a shock to everyone who knew her that she died so young. I say this because my mother lived her life to the fullest and never stopped moving. Even the day she went to the hospital due to shortness of breath (eventually diagnosed as congestive heart failure), she had already straightened up their home (“I can’t go the hospital with dishes in the sink.”), attended a class at Lake Forest Place and made several calls to discuss her latest project, etc. She was annoyed, when they wanted her to spend the night in the hospital (“This is ridiculous; I have too much to do.”). The next day she suffered a coronary and we lost her.

As I think about my mom, I realize how much I take from her teachings and apply them to how I conduct my real estate business, how I view homes, and how I interact with clients and other agents. So in honor of my mom, I hope you’ll indulge me as I take this time to share some of the lessons my mother taught me along the way.

When it comes to integrity, there is no ambiguity: you either have integrity or you don’t. My mother expected us always be honest and tell the truth; to deal with other people in an above board and fair manner. I work hard to put that principle first and foremost in my interactions with other agents and my clients.

Winning or losing doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. It’s showing up that’s important: being a player; having resiliency, sticking with it. This is probably my mother’s most important lesson to me. It has helped me immensely during this difficult housing market, when there was so much discouraging news everywhere. I chose to show up and stick with it, even when it was challenging and frustrating.

Your word is worth more than a piece of paper. I learned the hard way (see November 9, 2009), that in real estate that a legal contract is the only binding document. But I still stand by my word, because your word is your reputation; your word is really all you have. It’s important and it reflects the kind of person you are.

Abundance comes from abundance. She may never have expressed it that way, but she lived it that way. She believed that everyone could do well and make a contribution to this world. I know she is right – I believe it as well. I suppose that’s why I don’t particularly feel like I compete with other agents; I try to be happy for their successes and hopefully they feel the same for me. I believe everyone can have success and it’s just a matter or working hard and doing your best.

Always assume the best intentions from other people. My mother was unique – she treated everyone (well almost everyone – she wasn’t terribly easy on hospital personnel) with respect and kindness. She rarely spoke ill of anyone. If there was someone she didn’t particularly like she would always point out their positive qualities and leave it at that. Not surprisingly she was beloved by just about everyone who knew her - it was standing room only at her memorial service. While I’m not as good at this as mother was, I try to be courteous to others and not get into gossipy discussions. I find you meet all types in this business; there is no reason to be rude, impatient or unkind.

A deal’s a deal. If you agree to do something or make an offer, stand by it and follow through. My mother never believed in the concept of counteroffers and dragging out negotiations. Make a fair offer and then stick with it… that’s how my folks bought their three homes… one offer only. I know that’s a little unusual, but I did it her way when I bought my house in Lake Forest. My agent was surprised when I wouldn’t counter or budge from my asking price – but I knew I had made a fair offer, so why negotiate?  They could take it or leave it: they took it.

A clean home is a sign of a loved home. My mother always made sure that the brass was polished, the windows were washed, and the beds were made. I notice messy homes when I tour different properties and it always makes me wonder who lives there and whether they have taken care of changing the furnace air filters or kept the gutters cleaned out, etc.

Exterior spaces are as important as interior spaces. My mother loved her garden and patio. To her, it represented another room to the home. Even when my folks moved to an apartment complex in Winnetka, she made sure that there were beautiful planters and other exterior spaces for enjoyment. I find that when I look at a property, the outside is almost more important to me than the inside.

There’s right way and a wrong way to hang pictures and mirrors. My mother was fantastic at hanging pictures. She and my dad would always help me with my pictures when I needed them. When I go into a house, I can always tell if the pictures are hung in the wrong way… same with rugs, sofas and chairs. She always knew how to stage furniture in a room to the make the room warm and inviting. For example, she taught me not to push all the chairs against a wall.

My mother’s classic line was, “You act the way you dress.” I suppose that’s why I never wear blue jeans to work. If I want to be viewed as a professional, I need to dress like one. I suppose that’s a rather anachronistic concept these days, but old habits are hard to break and I can still hear my mother's voice.

I’m sure there are so many other things that I’ve left out. As it is with most people, Mother was the single most important influencer of my life. I still have a hard time believing she’s gone. My brother said it best at the memorial service….

What can I say? She fills me and guides me and always will. She had courage, spunk, and a freshness that bordered on naiveté which always made you smile. She may be gone but I am never alone knowing that she created a filter through which I examine everything I do and think…. I love you Mom and you will be with me always.

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