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Analysis of three types of Realtors: producers, improvers, blamers

There are many paths to success in the real estate industry, but over dinner as a young agent, my father gave me a reality check that ensured I never took the path of failure. There are many types of agents, and only one type is a failure.

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Success vs. failure in the real estate practice

When talking about success and failure in the real estate practice, I’ll begin by using myself as an example, as I don’t wish anyone to take offense. The facts of life, and the reality they construct, are often painful to acknowledge. Being brutal about myself is easy — now. Anywho, I hope we can all be honest with ourselves as a culture, and face facts as they are, good, bad, or ugly as the case may be. If reality is the building in which we hope to live, facts are the bricks giving it strength and durability.

I miss Grandma. Her wisdom was a never-ending source of learning and correction, not always a pleasurable process. The wisest, most kindhearted person I’ve ever known, she had the ability to cut through ignorant claptrap like mower blades through grass on a warm Saturday morning. Lookin’ back, it’s a wonder my picture didn’t end up next to the definition of the phrase, ignorant claptrap, in the dictionary. Facts were  often my sworn enemy. That’s the natural consequence when your ignorance is analogous to the bottomless pit of the black abyss.

Reality may be the first casualty of ignorance

Am I being too harsh on myself as a youngster? Not even close. Replacing ignorance with knowledge is the normal progression for most of us. For some it’s more painful than others. Human nature often dictates we wanna believe what we wanna believe.

Even though Grandma taught me tough lessons, she did so with a gentle heart. Knowing facts and the reality they deliver can be difficult pills to swallow, she sought to avoid adding to the discomfort. The learning/growing up process becomes harder as we age. Expectations increase. We’re expected to deal with things as they are. ‘Course if we all did that, denial wouldn’t have developed a cottage industry based upon treating it. But I digress.

Denial of reality makes us appear the fools we truly are

Licensed earlier than most, I was thrown into the deep end of the pool on Day 1. How green was I? I didn’t know enough to be nervous, much less scared. As a full time college student, my part time real estate hours were faux productive. I did what I was told, and listed properties. If memory serves, three of ’em sold outa the first 15 or so. Even that had to be due to a merciful God.

It was marvelous training though, as I learned rejection is rarely fatal. I also got to see, firsthand, what world class denial looks like. Though I learned to list property well, it turns out listing doesn’t necessarily mean selling. I learned this at the dinner table listening to an entirely different version of Grandma — that is, sans any fear of injuring my delicate feelings. Dad understood reality and the communication thereof. He cared not for subjectivity, excuses, or anything but results. There was no dishonor in failure, only in not facing the reasons for said failure, and refusing to adjust.

Fastest route to success: failure, and not in the cliché way

He taught me failure is nothing if not the quickest way to both learning and success. My bristling at his critiques of my performance didn’t phase him in the least. He was not a respecter of excuses. Those agents in his employ who complained about other agents being ‘lucky’ were fired on the spot. (Different days back then, as employers weren’t required by law to suffer fools. PC was still only a fantasy.) The idea was to produce results.

There were three kinds of agents: Those who produced results; those who were learning how to produce results; and those who blamed everyone but themselves for their inability to produce results.

The last had predictably short professional lifespans in Dad’s company. Even back then, late ’69 through the early 70s, he told me how the agent population ‘pie’ was divided. About 5-10% made the vast majority of the money. The rest of ’em fought over the scraps. I say fought, which is a misnomer. He never stopped pointing out how 80-90% of full time agents were barely worth the energy it took to fire them.

When I asked him at dinner one night why he was so cynical. so brutally critical, he responded with a very different tone of voice. It was soft, and yet it eerily intense. I’ve subsequently surmised that it was evidence of how intent he was on me grasping what he wanted me to understand. I’ll do my best to paraphrase.

Dad’s dinner speech:

“Facts are the bricks that build reality. Sometimes they make us feel badly about ourselves or our efforts. Sometimes we give them too much power. We can’t compare our first year in real estate brokerage with 10 year vets. But if those same 10 year vets aren’t doing far better than their rookie year, they need to find something else to do. The fact is, some refuse to work hard. Others work hard, but don’t have the capacity to work smart. Then there are those capable of working hard and smart, but chose not to. Their failures, according to them, were never the consequence of their own choices.

Wanna know why they don’t disappear sooner? It’s because their wives have full time jobs. (In those days, there were far fewer women licensees.) In fact, it’s been my observation that working wives are the backbone of the real estate industry. (The sarcasm was nearly tangible.)

Others succeeded, working at the desk just four feet away due to pure luck. They got the best ad calls. They knew more people, yadda yadda, blah blah. See, to admit the other guy produced superior results simply due to his hard work, and effective learning curve, leaves the failed agent with no defense. Therefore, luck must be the answer.

So when I tell you not to make excuses when failing to list or sell something, I’m not saying you’re a failure. I’m saying to consciously learn from the experience. Become better from it, then move on. Failure isn’t personal, it’s merely a fact. The only real losers in life are those who won’t face reality, forcing those in their orbit to conform to their personal fantasy. Don’t be that person. Keep failing right up to the point of success.

It’s the way reality works. The facts of failure are the bricks building your success. Embrace reality. Don’t be like the average agent who thinks talking about reality is negative. The vast majority of real estate agents fail almost before they begin. I know you think I’m unnecessarily caustic or rude because I constantly remind you of the failure surrounding you. But the alternative to boldly recognizing the facts, and therefore reality for what it is, makes you just another excuse generator.

The refusal to acknowledge facts and the reality they create is the mentality of a loser. Losers don’t like anyone openly recognizing the fact that 8-9 of every 10 agents fail themselves completely out of the business almost before people learn their names. They were there Friday, then were never heard from again. It’s called reality, Son. Nothin’ more, and nothin’ less.

Be brutally honest with yourself when you fail, and your learning curve will be relatively short. Refuse what the facts clearly convey and you’ll not only fail, you’ll be thought of as a fool.”

The loud echo of a wakeup call

The few minutes it took for me to hear those words at dinner that night, had a profound affect on my thinking from that point on. Did I mention that my wife of just a few months was sitting next to me? To make it worse, that conversation took place the day after I was told this by a tax preparer.

“Mr. Brown, it would’ve been better if you hadn’t worked at all.”

My wife was sitting next to me then, too. Talk about reality. Little did I know she was gonna be called ‘the backbone of real estate’ just a day later by my own dad.

Grandma used to say experiences like that, were wakeup calls. The master of understatement. It woke me up, and I was never the same. Results became the reason I got up in the morning. Excuses became the scourge of my existence. Failure needs no excuse. It just is. Recognize it for the blessing it is, and learn from it.

Facts aren’t offensive, and saying them aloud isn’t out of line. Attacking those openly  declare facts says volumes about the speaker.

Don’t make excuses — make good.

To those refusing to admit the reality of the real estate brokerage business, I refer you to both Ron White and Bill Engval, quoting each.

The former famously said, “Ya can’t fix stupid.”

But I prefer the latter — “Here’s your sign.”

Jeff Brown specializes in real estate investment for retirement, has practiced real estate for over 40 years and is a veteran of over 200 tax deferred exchanges, many multi-state. Brown is a second generation broker and works daily with the third generation. With CCIM training and decades of hands on experience, Brown's expertise is highly sought after, some of which he shares on his real estate investing blog.

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32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Dan Corkill

    April 15, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    Some pretty awesome words of wisdom. Facing the truth always makes you stronger.

  2. Matt Thomson

    April 15, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Something that I think most agents miss (I know I did my first 3+ yrs in the business and still have to re-learn from time to time) is that this business is hard. It’s just hard. There are times that making money seems so easy, failure seems a thing of the past, that you just put it on cruise control.
    Then reality hits, you look for someone/something to blame ’cause it was easy just a few months ago so there’s no way you can be the problem. Then you remember it’s hard, pick yourself up, and go again.
    I think too many forget that last step.

    • Jeff Brown

      April 15, 2012 at 9:49 pm

      Can always tell an experienced, scarred, vet. 🙂 Most of the so-called ‘easy’ stuff is really part of the crop we planted who knows when. It comes from the belief sayin’, “Seems like the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

  3. Hank Miller

    April 16, 2012 at 7:47 am

    Good article – the key points your Dad made remains the same; there are far too many folks in this business that don’t earn a living from it. Having that spouse is like having a reserve chute…when there’s no back up you tend to focus and go all in.

    Agents also need to have the ability to not once accept rejection, sometimes they need to initiate it. I’ve cut ties with many clients over the years the second that I realized they were non committal or were simply wasting my time. All we have is our time and it needs to be maximized if we’re to be successful.

    As my Uncle used to say; “a washing machine works hard, you need to work smart too”

  4. Augusta Real Estate.

    April 16, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    Good read and quite accurate. Some agents can’t get past the rejection on a phone call and tend to never make them. If they would just make the call and find out for themselves……….

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Opinion Editorials

7 ways to carve out me time while working from home

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It can be easy to forget about self-care when you’re working from home, but it’s critical for your mental health, and your work quality.

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Woman in hijab sitting on couch, working from home on a laptop

We are all familiar with the syndrome, getting caught up in work, chores, and taking care of others, and neglecting to take care of ourselves in the meantime. This has always been the case, but now, with more people working from home and a seemingly endless lineup of chores, thanks to the pandemic. There is simply so much to do.

The line is thinly drawn between personal and professional time already, with emails, cell phones, and devices relentlessly reaching out around the clock, pulling at us like zombie arms reaching up from the grave. Working from home makes this tendency to always be “on” worse, as living and working take place in such close proximity. We have to turn it off, though.

Our brains and bodies need down time, me-time, self-care. Carving out this time is one of the kindest and most important things you can do for yourself. If we can begin to honor ourselves like this, the outcome with not only our mental and physical health, but also our productivity at work, will be beneficial. When we make the time to do things we love, our body untenses, our mind’s gears slow down that constant grinding. Burnout behooves nobody.

Our work will also benefit. Healthier, happier, more well rested, and well treated minds and bodies can work wonders! Our immune systems also need this, and we need our immune systems to be at their peak performance this intense season.

I wanted to write this article, because I have such a struggle with this in my own life. I need to print it out and put it in my workspace. Last week, I posted something on my social media pages that so many people shared. It is clear we all need these reminders, so I am paying it forward here. The graphic was a quote from Devyn W.

“If you are reading this, release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”

There now, isn’t that remarkable? It is a great first step. Let go of the tension in your body, and check out these ways to make yourself some healing me-time.

  1. Set aside strict no-work times. This could be any time of day, but set the times and adhere to them strictly. This may look like taking a full hour for lunch, not checking email after a certain hour, or committing to spending that time outdoors, reading, exercising, or enjoying the company of your loved ones. Make this a daily routine, because we need these boundaries. Every. Single. Day.
  2. Remember not to apologize to anyone for taking this me-time. Mentally and physically you need this, and everyone will be better off if you do. It is nothing to apologize for! Building these work-free hours into your daily schedule will feel more normal as time goes on. This giving of time and space to your joy, health, and even basic human needs is what should be the norm, not the other way around.
  3. Give yourself a device-free hour or two every day, especially before bedtime. The pinging, dinging, and blinging keeps us on edge. Restful sleep is one of the wonderful ways our bodies and brains heal, and putting devices away before bedtime is one of the quick tips for getting better sleep.
  4. Of course, make time for the things you absolutely love. If this is a hot bath, getting a massage, reading books, working out, cooking or eating an extravagant meal, or talking and laughing with a loved one, you have to find a way to get this serotonin boost!
  5. Use the sunshine shortcut. It isn’t a cure-all, but sunlight and Vitamin D are mood boosters. At least when it’s not 107 degrees, like in a Texas summer. But as a general rule, taking in at least a good 10-15 minutes of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D provided by the sun is good for us.
  6. Spend time with animals! Walk your dog, shake that feathery thing at your cat, or snuggle either one. Whatever animals make you smile, spend time with them. If you don’t have pets of your own, you could volunteer to walk them at a local shelter or even watch a cute animal video online. They are shown to reduce stress. Best case scenario is in person if you are able, but thankfully the internet is bursting with adorable animal videos, as a backup.
  7. Give in to a bit of planning or daydreaming about a big future trip. Spending time looking at all the places you will go in the future and even plotting out an itinerary are usually excellent mood-boosters. It’s a bit different in 2020, as most of us aren’t sure when we will be able to go, but even deciding where you want to go when we are free to travel again can put a positive spin on things.

I hope we can all improve our lives while working from home by making time for regenerating, healing, and having fun! Gotta run—the sun is out, and my dog is begging for a walk.

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Opinion Editorials

Why robots freak us out, and what it means for the future of AI

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Robots and humans have a long way to go before the social divide disappears, but research is giving us insight on how to cross the uncanny valley.

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Close of R2D2 toy, an example of robots that we root for, but why?

We hate robots. Ok, wait, back up. We at least think they are more evil than good. Try it yourself – “are robots” in Google nets you evil before good. Megatron has higher SEO than Optimus Prime, and it’s not just because he’s so much cooler. It cuz he evil, cuz. It do be like that.

It’s not even a compliment to call someone robotic; society connotes this to emotionless preprogrammed shells of hideous nothing, empty clankbags that walk and talk and not much else. So, me at a party. Or if you’re a nerd, you’re a robot. (Me at a party once again.)

Let’s start by assuming robots as human-like bipedal machines that are designed with some amount of artificial intelligence, generally designed to fulfill a job to free up humanity from drudgery. All sounds good so far. So why do they creep us out?

There’s a litany of reasons why, best summed up with the concept of the uncanny valley, first coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori (Wow he’s still alive! The robots have not yet won) in 1970. Essentially, we know what a human is and how it looks and behaves against the greater backdrop of life and physics. When this is translated to a synthetic being, we are ok with making a robot look and act like us to a point, where we then notice all the irregularities and differences.

Most of these are minor – unnaturally smooth or rigid movements, light not scattering properly on a surface, eyes that don’t sync up quite right when they blink, and several other tiny details. Lots of theories take over at this point about why this creeps us out. But a blanket way to think about it is that our expectation doesn’t match what we are seeing; the reality we’re presented with is off just enough and this makes us uncomfortable .

Ever stream a show and the audio is a half second off? Makes you really annoyed. Magnify that feeling by a thousand and you’re smack in the middle of the uncanny valley. It’s that unnerving. One possible term for this is abjection, which is what happens the moment before we begin to fear something. Our minds – sensing incompatibility with robots – know this is something else, something other , and faced with no way to categorize this, we crash.

This is why they make good villains in movies – something we don’t understand and given free will and autonomy, potentially imbued with the bias of a creator or capable of forming terrifying conclusions all on its own (humans are a virus). But they also make good heroes, especially if they are cute or funny. Who doesn’t love C3PO? That surprise that they are good delights us. Build in enough appeal to a robot, and we root for them and feel empathy when they are faced with hardships. Do robots dream of electric sheep? Do robots have binary souls? Bits and zeros and ones?

Professor Jaime Banks (Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication) spends a lot of time thinking about how we perceive robots. It’s a complex and multifaceted topic that covers anthropomorphism, artificial intelligence, robot roles within society, trust, inherently measuring virtue versus evil, preconceived notions from entertainment, and numerous topics that cover human-robot interactions.

The world is approaching a future where robots may become commonplace; there are already robot bears in Japan working in the healthcare field. Dressing them up with cute faces and smiles may help, but one jerky movement later and we’ve dropped all suspension.

At some point, we have to make peace with the idea that they will be all over the place. Skynet, GLaDOS in Portal, the trope of your evil twin being a robot that your significant will have to shoot in the middle of your fight, that episode of Futurama where everything was a robot and they rose up against their human masters with wargod washing machines and killer greeting cards, the other Futurama episode where they go to a planet full of human hating murderous robots… We’ve all got some good reasons to fear robots and their coded minds.

But as technology advances, it makes sense to have robots take over menial tasks, perform duties for the needy and sick, and otherwise benefit humanity at large. And so the question we face is how to build that relationship now to help us in the future.

There’s a fine line between making them too humanlike versus too mechanical. Pixar solved the issue of unnerving humanoids in their movies by designing them stylistically – we know they are human and accept that the figure would look odd in real life. We can do the same with robots – enough familiarity to develop an appeal, but not enough to erase the divide between humanity and robot. It may just be a question of time and new generations growing up with robots becoming fixtures of everyday life. I’m down for cyborgs too.

Fearing them might not even be bad, as Banks points out: “…a certain amount of fear can be a useful thing. Fear can make us think critically and carefully and be thoughtful about our interactions, and that would likely help us productively engage a world where robots are key players.”

Also, check out Robot Carnival if you get the chance – specifically the Presence episode of the anthology.

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Opinion Editorials

4 simple tips to ease friction with your boss while working remotely

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Find it challenging to get along with your boss while working from home? Here are a few things you can try to ease the tension.

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Woman stressed over laptop in remote work.

Most people probably feel like their relationship with their boss is fine. If you’re encountering friction with your boss for any reason, though, remote work will often exacerbate it—this is one instance where distance doesn’t necessarily make the heart grow fonder. Here are a few ways to remove some of that friction without adding to your boss’ overflowing plate.

According to CNN, determining the problem that exists between you and your boss should be your first step. There’s one caveat to consider, however: Your boss’ boundaries. Problem-solving on your own time is fine, but demanding more of your boss’ time—especially when you’re supposed to be working—may compound the issue.

An easy way around this is a low-impact communique—e.g., an email—sent at the beginning or end of the workday. Since that’s a more passive communication style that takes only a minute or two out of your day, it’s less likely to frustrate your boss further.

If ironing out the issue isn’t your prerogative for now, examining your boss’ parameters for success is another place to start. Does your boss prefer to receive multiple updates throughout the day, or do they want one summative report each morning? Do you respect your boss’ preferred communication styles? These are important questions to ask during remote work. If you find yourself reaching out more than necessary, for example, it may be time to cut back.

It can also be difficult to satiate your boss if you don’t know their expectations. If you’re able to speak to them about the expectations regarding a project or task, do it; clarifying the parameters around your work will always help both of you. It is worth noting that some supervisors may expect that you know your way around some types of responsibilities, though, so err on the side of complementing that knowledge rather than asking for comprehensive instructions.

Finally, keep in mind that some bosses simply don’t communicate the same way you do. I’ve personally been blessed with a bevy of nurturing, enthusiastic supervisors, but we’ve all had superiors who refuse to acknowledge our successes and instead focus on our failures. That can be a really tough mentality to work with during remote periods, but knowing that they have a specific communication style that hampers their sociability can help dampen the effects.

As always, communication is key—even if that means doing it a little bit less than you’d like.

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