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The Lucy & Ethel Fiasco

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Disasters in UnReal Estate:

There is some old saying about the best laid plans going asunder, and I am about to tell you where asunder is: it’s a place in New Jersey. Picture a lovely suburb of tract homes in Jersey, circa 1969. One year my mother Marie decided we should sell the family home and get something bigger than a bread box. I didn’t mention my father Boyd, because he tried to stay clear of the caper – in fact, he tried to steer clear of ALL her capers. He would just sit in an overstuffed chair in front of the tube, as if anchored for safety, seemingly oblivious to everything unless it interrupted a ball game. In our neighborhood, my mother and her twin, Aunt Bea (really her name) were referred to as Lucy and Ethel because of their ability to court disaster. The house-for-sale stunt was no exception. Mom and Bea had read an article on how to make the house more desirable, so they took matters into their own hands…always a dangerous proposition in our household. This was an unforgettable lesson in how NOT to make a home a stand-out on the open house trail.

Lucy Landscapes the Home

As we all know, landscaping is one of the most important tools in selling a house. It creates a feeling of “home” and gives the property a personality. However, this was Jersey tract housing, and all the houses looked alike – it was Levittown re-visited. Landscaping was never an art in our burg.  One sunny afternoon my mother was waiting with the dog in the “waiting room” of the vet. The waiting room was actually the living room of the home of Dr.-Diglio-the-Dog-Killer who lived a few blocks over. His actual office was attached to the back of his home. As my mother “Lucy” settled in with a magazine, a woman walked in from the kitchen, paused, then began to scream. My mother got so flustered she ran out without the dog. While huddled in the yard and unsure of what to do, it suddenly dawned on her that she had walked into the wrong home and had made herself quite comfortable, thank-you-very-much. A bit shaken, she went back for the dog and talked the woman out of calling the local hit man. (After all, this was Jersey.) As soon as Lucy returned home, she promptly placed a hanging plant out front so she could always distinguish her own home from the others. Moral: Give the house some identity with some landscaping. It may help sell your house, and it will keep strangers from wandering into your living room.

Ethel Pays Attention to Lighting

Shortly after that, Lucy and her sidekick Ethel (Aunt  Bea), who lived with us for years, decided to cruise around the neighborhood to see how the other neighbors had distinguished their own houses from the others. Now this was late October, so Halloween lights and decorations were in abundance, and pumpkins adorned nearly every stoop. As Lucy and Ethel, the Twins of Disaster, cruised along (never over 20mph), they had a running commentary:

“Look at the lovely Indian corn on that door, dear.”

“Yes, they grow beautiful corn in India. Isn’t that a funny jackal-lantern?”

Oh, that house has lovely lighting, doesn’t it, dear? They did a lovely job!”

“Yes, lovely…..Oh-oh…Back up Marie, dear – that was our house we were looking at.”

Moral:  Lighting can transform a house so much you can barely recognize it. Just ask Lucy and Ethel.

They Clean the House & Bake Something

In our house there was always clutter. My mother knew that the house had to be clean for showings, but a lot of kids, a mongrel dog, a bird and an Aunt Bea all added to the work load. She tried hard to get everything ready for the listing agent to come over to see the property and determine its value. The first thing she did was turn off the heat. Boyd had gotten a “deal” on Styrofoam insulation that you blow into the attic, but the pellets were the size of BB’s. For years, every time the fan to the heater came on, a white storm blew out of the vents like snow on the tundra. I kid you not. So Lucy and Ethel kept the heat off and cleaned up as much of the Styrofoam as they could, although it always clung to corners and looked like the house had psoriasis.

Mom also rented a rug shampooer and went at it, all ninety-five pounds of her trying to wranglea machine that weighed almost as much as she did. Ethel helped by chasing the dog out every time he tried to attack the machine. (He thought it was Dr. Diglio, no doubt.) When they were finished, the rug looked better, but the smell was horrendous. The rug was wool, so the entire house smelled like the vet’s office.

Lucy decided to cook up one of her favorite dishes to cover the smell, having read that fragrances helped set the ambiance. She made stuffed cabbage. Even the dog gagged. She admitted later that she thought the strong scent of cabbage would disguise the smell of the rug. (Isn’t that like eating garlic to cover up bad breath?) Moral: Yes, aroma can certainly add to the open house experience, but I suggest baking bread rather than something that smells like foot fungus.

Lucy De-Clutters While Ethel Clucks

Lucy and Ethel prepared the stage. With a household full of people and a general traffic problem, keeping clutter at a minimum was always impossible. But they knew that they just had to pull it together for an hour. They ran about, shoving items in cabinets, under beds, behind couches, and into every empty space available. My mother decided to clear the counters, so she threw the baked goods into the dryer and headed for the radio. “I need to turn on some music, Boyd dear,” she called to my father, who always stayed out of the path of the Sisters of Destruction.

“Marie, I’m watching the ballgame,” he bellowed. (Everything to him required volume.)

“But, dear, I read that music is important – and the agent is on her way.”

“Then she can listen to “Take Me Out to The Ball game” during the seventh inning stretch, because I’m not turning off the damn Yankees,” he barked. “The best thing you can do if you want to impress that agent is to get rid of the smell of death. And turn up the blasted heat!”

The Jelly Roll Explosion

This was October, remember. As the clouds set in, the day had gotten cooler, so Lucy jacked up the heat. As the smell of wet wool and cabbage wafted through the house like vomit on a radiator, so did the Styrofoam hail storm. From the living room, the lovely, dulcet notes of the announcers at the ballgame added to the ambiance of pure dysfunction. Now picture the door bell ringing, the dog barking, the bird squawking, my father ranting, Lucy and Ethel flying about like parrots on crack. As the stunned agent made her way into the show home of the month, we all heard a scream from my sister Lisa who was in the laundry room. My mother stopped in her tracks. “Oh my God,” she cried, “turn off the dryer, dear!” It was too late. Ding Dongs had melted all over Lisa’s clothes and something called a jelly roll had exploded in the dryer, turning the entire machine and all its contents into a giant lava lamp. Of course, nothing was as bright as my dear mother’s face.

My father turned up the television and simply said to the agent, “This may take awhile…how ’bout a beer?” Moral: Remove all clutter, but never, never hide bake goods in a dryer without warning the family.

Lucy and Ethel Get Syndicated

Aunt Bea is still alive to verify this story (age 85), but dear Lucy is not, may she rest in peace. She deserved some peace. They decided not to sell and ended up in that disaster of a house for almost forty years. Not much has changed in the neighborhood, but the housing values certainly have climbed. Even in this market, sales are strong. If Mom were alive today, I bet she’d have a plant on the stoop and there would be the familiar smell of something burning in the kitchen. I thank her for teaching me so many of the basic rules of Real Estate, the most important one being: Avoid jelly rolls and Ding Dongs at open houses – they can go psycho on you at the least provocation.

I wear several hats: My mink fedora real estate hat belongs to Sotheby’s International Realty on the world famous Sunset Strip. I’M not world famous, but I've garnered a few Top Producer credits along the way. I also wear a coonskin writer's cap with an arrow through it, having written a few novels and screenplays and scored a few awards there, too. (The arrow was from a tasteless critic.) My sequined turban is my thespian hat for my roles on stage, and in film and television, Dahling. You can check me out in all my infamy at LinkedIn, LAhomesite.com, SherlockOfHomes, IMDB or you can shoot arrows at my head via email. I can take it.

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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. BawldGuy

    April 17, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    I swear we’ve lived parallel lives. Great stuff.

    My favorite — “The best thing you can do if you want to impress that agent is to get rid of the smell of death…”

    Ya can’t make this stuff up. Thanks!

  2. Gwen Banta

    April 17, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    You, too??? Is it any wonder we both have such distorted senses of humor? Aunt Bea is actually visiting this week from New York State. I’m getting as many stories out of her as I can – even the secret ones. I have been laughing for a week. She told me the dog threw up while the agent was there. What a household full of crazy!

  3. Missy Caulk

    April 17, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Funny, it is hard to sell with kids and dogs. That is why I’m not moving til the five kids are gone. Some are but 3 left.

    The dogs (4) and kitten one can stay but I will definitely need to re-carpet when we move.

    You crack me up. What memories.

  4. Ken Brand

    April 18, 2009 at 10:35 am

    I grew up in an Adams Family household, my mom loved to watch the Lucy show.

    Our family would have enjoyed being friends with yours. I believe that a semi-bizarre-oh childhood is a hidden, unexplored and rarely discussed success gene/quirk/chink/blessing/scuff for real estate agents.

    Thanks.

  5. Brian Brady

    April 19, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    “it’s a place in New Jersey”

    Where? If your Dad’s watching the Yankees (in ’69) then it had to be in WPIX range.

    @BawldGuy- her Dad would have been listening to Jerry Coleman with Scooter and Whitey

  6. BawldGuy

    April 19, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    The thought had crossed my mind. 🙂

  7. Gwen Banta

    April 19, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    Gee Guys, You got me there. I wish I could answer that, but I can’t. My dad was obssessed with the Yankees, but he also followed every other team in the league. When we lived in N.Y., he let me cut school to stay home and listen to the World Series with him. He also was an Indy 500 fan, so this time of year brings back great memories. I think I’ll check out all the sports info with you guys before I mention anything in that area again, because to me, it is all one blend of announcers, noise, excitement and Harry Caray moments. It seems to me that the day the agent was visiting our house was a Yankee day, but Dad may have just been yelling about a “brewski.” It all went hand-in-hand in our boisterous household. Thanks for the keen eye…and thanks so much for your comments.

  8. Brian Brady

    April 20, 2009 at 9:01 am

    My question wasn’t clear, Gwen. Where in Jersey?

  9. Brian Brady

    April 20, 2009 at 9:01 am

    PS: I ask because I grew up in Cherry Hill

  10. Gwen Banta

    April 20, 2009 at 10:41 am

    We lived in Hamilton Square, Brian – between Trenton and Princeton. I spent some time in Cherry Hill, and I have some fond memories from that area as well. I’m actually from New York (upstate), but we moved to Jersey when I was entering High School. Jersey still seems like home to me because that’s where I returned to visit my family as my sisters were growing up and all the remaining years of my parents lives. I sure do miss “tomato pies” and cannolis!

  11. Brian Brady

    April 21, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Hamilton Square- know it well. Your dad watched the Yankees but half your neighbors were Phillies fans. Mercer, Middlesex and Monmouth counties were like “no-man’s land” for sports.

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Opinion Editorials

Interviews shouldn’t include ‘how did you improve yourself?’ during or after COVID

(EDITORIAL) Emotional Intelligence will be even more needed in recruiting talent and Interviews shouldn’t look the same as they did pre-COVID.

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Question: Remember that last time you dealt with a global pandemic?
Answer: No, because most likely, none of us have.

This is new for many of us. We’ve likely each felt the rollercoaster of emotions or even grief as our ways of lives changed, some were quickly moved to working remotely while others were deemed essential workers and were not able to work from home. It was disheartening for many that no matter what position they were put in, it was with no choice. And then there were the millions of jobs eliminated as well, affecting people’s ability to pay their bills and fulfill their own safety, and even basic needs. Everyone entered survival mode, and it looks the same yet different depending on your unique situation.

All of this comes at a price that seems hard to predict. Moving forward will be different albeit many of us don’t know exactly how yet, and are imagining a wild range of possibilities. Now that the US unemployment is up to 14.7%, there will also be many people job searching and finding themselves in interviews answering the typical “Tell me about yourself”, or “Tell me about a time when…” Most likely many candidates will be able to tell you about their previous work experiences, but here’s what we ask of future employers:

  1. Be more understanding (less judgmental or pushy) if you see folks looking to switch careers, or you see Small Business Owners applying for your open position. This may have been an opportunity for them to explore another avenue, or it may have been forced if their previous type of position (or business) is no longer available. Of course, you can ask them why they are interested in the position, but try not to look down your brow if they seem to be an unlikely or unexpected candidate.
  2. Do not ask what this candidate did to be productive during the quarantine. Just surviving may have been enough. If they did take up a new hobby, learn a new coding language, write a book, or start a new work out program, I’m going to guess it will come out in conversation. If they literally had to utilize the majority of their energy for coping skills, that should be enough. Don’t believe all the sourdough starters you saw on Instagram (and why has banana bread been so popular?)
  3. Try to avoid some of the ridiculous questions that tell you nothing about their skill set. We get it, interviews can be boring so you thought it might be fun to ask the interviewee for their favorite joke such as “What 5 items would they want on a deserted island?” or “What fruit they would be in a smoothie?” This has been an extremely traumatic situation for many. The goofy questions are not really applicable, and will only lead to additional stress after they leave thinking over if they “got the answer right”.
  4. Please do your best to really utilize this time to hire with diversity and inclusion in mind. Do not dismiss someone because they have several years of experience in another sector or because they didn’t attend the Ivy League school. If they applied, chances are they do have an interest in your company, so exploring how they can be a great fit, bring in a refreshing perspective, and may be a better option than hiring something that exactly matches the job description (which may be hard to find anyway) is a smart idea. Please be open to a variety of ages, races, and sexes.

Interviews in general can conjure up lots of negative feelings, anxiety, and stress. Most people don’t like the stress of interviews but yet they have accepted that this is part of the job search process. There will be even more people out there looking again, and likely not because they want to. The mental toll this is taking should be handled with care. As this Ask a Manager article beautifully states:

“If someone is teaching themselves a new language or building their coding skills during the pandemic, that’s great. But to present it as an expectation during a time when millions of people are struggling to keep their homes, feed their families, and stay alive — to imply people might be less worthy of employment if they needed to focus on their finances and their safety during a f’ing global crisis — no. No. Something has gone very wrong in anyone who believes that.”

The companies with openings may have an advantage with many available and interested candidates but they also have a huge responsibility to not take this lightly; don’t waste people’s time, and don’t ask really INSENSITIVE questions. If you need help reviewing your questions or interview processes, it may be great to assign someone to review Emotional Intelligence tips and see if they can incorporate that in to what you normally do.

Emotional Intelligence is touted as the most required skill of the future (that may have been pre-pandemic), which is, “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” This means really reading the room and not putting candidates in an awkward position, or placing unrealistic expectations on them. Oh, and please have a little grace with those virtual interviews – that is also new to some people, so maybe cut them some slack if the nerves have really kicked in.

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Opinion Editorials

Press mute when you’re sobbing on a Zoom (and other COVID mental health observations)

(EDITORIAL) COVID-19 had been hard on everybody, but a group often not thought of are those who have mental illness, they struggled in the world before, what about now?

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Editors note: This editorial was written anonymously and brings important insight into an issue not often brought up or thought about. We at The American Genius believe this is an important topic to keep in mind about an often silent group that may think they are alone and face extra challenges everyday.

Whether you’re a veteran of working from home, or if you are someone newly learning that muting your mic is important, welcome. Working from home is both rewarding and challenging. This is not an instruction manual on how best to work from home. It’s a guide to working from home and not losing an already delicate mind to existing or potential mental illness.

Some ideas I’d like to convey should ring true now and in the future. However, one aspect is unique to now. I’m writing from the time of Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. Workers have been divided into two groups, “essential” and “non-essential.” Those considered non-essential were sent home with hopes of slowing the spread of the disease. Those deemed essential, like doctors and grocery store clerks, were considered too vital to our way of life to stay home. One group unable to work, the other unable to stay home.

Then there’s us. A quasi third group. Those who have a job that is so tied to the glowy screen in front of them that it could be performed, in theory, from any location with a computer and internet. Theory was put to practice as many people – accustomed to commuting each day – suddenly learned the joy and perils of working in their jammies.

Working from home is not a new idea, but there had never been such a reason to push so many people to practice it. Some companies, historically, felt uncomfortable with workers staying home. With the arrival of COVID-19 they had a change of heart and now insist on it. Once and for all we will find out which meetings could have just been an email.

The pandemic has been hard on many people. If one is able to avoid the disease itself, they are still subject to staying in and staying isolated. Many never leave their home except for groceries or prescriptions. Some people thrive in this situation, but for others, it puts pressure on the mind and spirit. What about those who already have such a toll on their state of mind due to mental illness?

Working a job, or doing anything, with mental illness can be its own challenge. Mental illnesses and disorders that can affect your work include depression, PTSD, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and borderline personality disorder – just to name a few. So what happens when those who suffer from one or more of these mental health issues have to stay at home every day for work?

There are advantages. If a moment strikes you when you can’t be your professional self, you can often step away and have that cup of tea and peace of mind. Going heads-down and focusing on your task is where you might thrive. However, working from home can still mean having dead-lines and going to live meetings. Needing help or coordination from distant workers can quickly tax your social resources.

There will be a great deal of communication through multiple methods ranging from group video calls to instant messages. Things can get out of control quickly if you don’t set limits. When you want to reach someone it may be unclear which method to use. “Should I email or call them?” you might find yourself pondering. This can frustrate you to the point of not taking action at all. Getting a handle on the lines of communication is vital.

Request to have as few modes of communication as possible. You might find yourself responding to text messages, reading emails, taking phone calls, or answering instant messages from WhatsApp, Slack, or more. It will certainly create a growing obsession towards monitoring notifications rather than actual work.

If a consensus can not be found, give your coworkers clear communication on how you want to be reached, and ask them what they prefer. Needing to check the notification on so many apps is a recipe for a panic attack and overwhelming yourself.

Let’s consider meetings. You’ve seen it by now – or you will – a Zoom meeting with people saying “hello hello, is this thing on?” It’s amazing that in a time we all have computers in our pocket, that it’s still hard to coordinate things like your own audio, video, and even lighting conditions. If you suffer panic attacks it’s best not to be unknotting your earphones while the CEO is about to make a big presentation. Get ready early, check that you can be heard and can hear others. If another meeting is about to start, leave on time. Respect the start time of that new meeting. Overlapping meetings that never end are a sign that boundaries are not being observed. Boundaries are hard for most, but if you have a mental illness they can feel impossible to set.

On a similar note, let’s look at the start and end of work. Being on time is important. Wait, you just need to roll out of bed and turn on a computer? Great, but is it though? You get there just in time to say the proverbial “here!” If you are not ready to work, you are falling behind. Extend this idea to the day itself. When is the day over? Did you start a little late so you feel obligated to work a little later? Do you have a time when other people can expect that you won’t get their message until the next business day? Does working-from-home turn into working-all-the-time?

Getting to work on time also means leaving work on time. Those who have had a reactive or abusive partner know that setting boundaries can escalate situations instead of repairing them. Telling your boss “I’ll like to be offline after 6:30.” can result in the fear that you’ll just be told to close your computer and never return. But these are the boundaries one must set. Finding this work-life balance is doubly important for the mentally ill because we need to reserve time for ourselves for repair and growth.

Among all my reminders to you, remember to leave the house. In the time of COVID-19, this gets convoluted because “Stay home, stay safe!” is the phrase of the day. Having issues going outside can be a part of mental illness. In extreme cases, some people are afraid to go out the front door. With nearly everything being available for delivery now possible to stay home for days, but this is not a good recipe for mental health. When your day ends – and make sure it ends – get some fresh air and possibly some exercise.

Plan the rest of your day ahead of time. Look forward to it and go out and enjoy it. Day to day life is already hard with mental health issues. Don’t let working from home be another hardship. Breath deeply, take care of your mind and don’t let the mixture of home and work overwhelm you. Don’t forget your most important job is to take care of yourself.

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Opinion Editorials

5 Secrets to a more productive morning in the office

(EDITORIAL) Productivity is king in the office, but sometimes distractions and other issues slow you down. So what can you do to limit these factors?

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Regardless of whether you’re a self-proclaimed morning person or not, more efficient mornings can be catalytic in your daily productivity and output. The only question is, do you know how to make the most of your mornings in the office?

5 Tips for Greater Morning Productivity

In economic terms, productivity is a measure of output as it relates to input. Academics often discuss productivity in terms of a one-acre farm’s ability to produce a specific crop yield, or an auto manufacturing plant’s ability to produce a certain number of vehicles over a period of time. But then there’s productivity in our personal lives.

Your own daily productivity can be defined in a variety of ways. But at the end of the day, it’s about getting the desired results with less time and effort on the input side. And as a business professional, one of the best ways to do this is by optimizing your morning in the office.

Here are a few timely suggestions:

  1. Eliminate All Non-Essential Actions


    Spend the next week keeping a log of every single action you take from the moment your eyes open in the morning until you sit down at your desk. It might look something like this:

    • Turn off alarm
    • Scroll through social media on phone
    • Get out of bed
    • Eat breakfast
    • Take shower
    • Brush teeth
    • Walk dog
    • Watch news
    • Browse favorite websites
    • Get in car
    • Starbucks drive-thru
    • Arrive at office
    • Small talk with coworkers
    • Sit down at desk

    If you do this over the course of a week, you’ll notice that your behaviors don’t change all that much. There might be some slight deviations, but it’s basically the same pattern.

    Now consider how you can eliminate as many points of friction as possible from your routine. [Note from the Editor: This may be an unpopular opinion, but] For example, can you skip social media time? Can you make coffee at home, rather than drive five minutes out of your way to wait in the Starbucks drive-thru line? Just doing these two things alone could result in an additional 30 minutes of productive time in the office.

  2. Reduce Distractions


    Distractions kill productivity. They’re like rooftop snipers. As soon as they see any sign of productivity, they put it in their crosshairs and pull the trigger.

    Ask yourself this: What are my biggest distractions and how can I eliminate them?

    Popular distractions include social media, SMS, video games, news websites, and email. And while none of these are evil, they zap focus. At the very least, you should shift them to later in the day.

  3. Set Measurable Goals and Action items


    It’s hard to have a productive morning if you don’t have a clear understanding of what it means to be productive. Make sure you set measurable goals, create actionable to-do lists, and establish definitive measurements of what it looks like to be efficient. However, don’t get so caught up in the end result that you miss out on true productivity.

    “There’s a big difference between movement and achievement; while to-do lists guarantee that you feel accomplished in completing tasks, they don’t ensure that you move closer to your ultimate goals,” TonyRobbins.com mentions. “There are many ways to increase your productivity; the key is choosing the ones that are right for you and your ultimate goals.”

    In other words, set goals that are actually reflective of productivity. In doing so, you’ll adjust your behavior to come in proper alignment with the results you’re seeking.

  4. Try Vagus Nerve Stimulation


    Sometimes you just need to block out distractions and focus on the ask at hand. There are plenty of ways to shut out interruptions, but makes sure you’re also simultaneously cuing your mind to be productive. Vagus nerve stimulation is one option for doing both.

    Vagus nerve stimulation, which gently targets the body’s vagus nerve to promote balance and relaxation, while simultaneously enhancing focus and output.

  5. Optimize Your Workspace


    Makes sure your office workspace is conducive to productivity. This means eliminating clutter, optimizing the ergonomics of your desk, reducing distractions, and using “away” settings on apps and devices to suppress notifications during work time.

Make Productivity a Priority

Never take productivity for granted. The world is full of distractions and your willpower is finite. If you “wing it,” you’ll end up spending more time, energy, and effort, all while getting fewer positive results.

Make productivity a priority – especially during the mornings when your mind is fresh and the troubles of the day have yet to be released in full force. Doing so will change the way you operate, function, and feel. It’ll also enhance tangible results, like income, job status, and the accolades that come along with moving up in your career.

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