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Client expectations vs. Industry’s poor reputation

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I’ve had a couple of head-banging experiences lately that have opened my eyes to the type of service we provide as real estate professionals. To think that some people think they have the right to be offensive just because our industry has a poor reputation is just WRONG!climb.jpg

A man called us a couple of days ago asking about a property listed for $800k. He asked if the owner wanted to sell, if he was motivated and if he would accept $600k. I responded that although the answers were yes and yes, maybe he should be looking at things in his price-range. He went on to say that if the owner would not accept $600k, then he really did not want to sell. I told him there was a big difference between being desperate and selling your house and not all sellers fit the “desperate” criteria. This is when the story gets good.

Then I asked if he was working with an agent – Mr. gentle blew up saying “you’ve got gaul lady trying to get my business“. I very calmly responded that contrary to his belief, we chose our clients and he did not fit the profile of someone I’d like to work with.

Yes ladies and gentlemen…….we, as professionals, need to respect ourselves above all else. The mighty dollar is NOT the bottom line, we make a living out of real estate, real estate does not own us. I have a bachelors degree in architecture and have consciously chosen to be in this profession and offer my expertise to our real estate clients. I will not work with people that do not appreciate or respect me.

Then today, I get alerted by someone leaving a comment on a post by Mariana called

Perception = Reality: Real Estate Agents Suck

This is what anonymous had to say:

What a load of crap. Real Estate agents are the scum of the earth. They live up to every stereotype. You’ve brought this upon yourselves. Now quit your whining and live up to what you are. But you’re such pathological liars, you even do that. You have to be scum and then lie about it. Typical. If it were up to me, all real estate agents would be tarred and feathered and set on fire.

I did a head tilt while reading this and felt really, really bad for this guy (we’ll assume he’s a man for this post’s sake). I felt bad not because he was offensive, or because his truth was distorted, but because he has NEVER worked with a good real estate professional in his life. Think about it. This guy thinks all real estate agents are scum and liars……OUCH!!!

Instead of defending my industry, which I will not. I have made a conscious effort to find one of these “Realtor Hater” types and turn their mind around. It’s a challenge!! It’s easy for me to say…….”I choose my clients and I will not work for you”, but it’s very tough to say, “I will change this person’s mind so he will be my number one disciple!”.

Go ahead, wish me luck and I DARE you to join me.

Ines is all Miami, all the time. A Miami Beach Realtor® with Majestic properties, Ines authors Miamism.com, PrimeMiamiBeach.com, and MiamismPix.com and is always on communication's leading edge. She goes out of her way to engage and be engaged, often using Mojitos to keep the mood light and give everything she does a Miami flavor. You can find her goofing off or instigating trouble at Twitter, Flickr, Facebook or LinkedIn.

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53 Comments

53 Comments

  1. Mariana

    January 7, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    Thank you for the link to that post, Ines. It kinda goes back to that whole Renegade Realtor thing.

    You are either part of the perception or part of the solution.

    I get a lot of this statemnet at closings:
    “I hate realtors, but I really liked you guys.” or “You weren’t what we expected. Thank you.”

    Yay for us, but sad for Realtor Perception …

  2. Vicki Moore

    January 7, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    Very timely post for me, Ines. I posted this yesterday and would appreciate hearing any comments/suggestions you might have. https://www.realestatesanmateoca.com/blog/?p=174

    Larry and I have been discussing internet leads and how to deal with their – I’m generalizing now – desire to get info for free, no commitment, often impolite attitude.

  3. Ines

    January 7, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    Mariana – only part of the solution – that’s why we’re here, no? that was a great post and you just wonder about the mentality of some people.

    Vicki – I’m off to check it out.

  4. Ines

    January 8, 2008 at 12:00 am

    Vicki – as I said over there – blogging gives us the opportunity to prove our worth and show what value we bring to the table – the challenge now is to get our customers to dedicate a little time for us to get to know them and their needs.

    Instead of a face to face meeting at an office (I’m not much of an office person), I like to spend a couple of hours with them seeing properties to get a good idea what they are looking for.

  5. Larry Yatkowsky

    January 8, 2008 at 2:04 am

    Maybe Vicki has encountered something different, (see her post as noted above). As corporeal realtors – quoting Ines; “I like to spend a couple of hours with them”. In both cases assumed is a permission based response from the client via Vicki’s and Ines’ web efforts. For Vicki, permission has happened, voice contact is made, but here’s the twist. Envision a chasm between the corporeal world and the “twitter-tech Web2.0 types” (please no tomatoes). Normal proceedures follow seeking a meeting – the goal to pre-qualify and extend to a more in-depth relationship. Result is a Brick wall! No pre-qualifying will happen. Simplified, no meet up, no chance of extending the relationship, just a Google solution, Ranked accordingly (my words not Vicki’s). If relationships are a fundemental premise of our business, reflect on how you would effectively bridge this chasm to more effectively achieve ROI. I’m still thinking about it as my intial thoughts aren’t pretty.

  6. Larry Yatkowsky

    January 8, 2008 at 2:13 am

    Ines, the beautiful part about thick skin is that you don’t get burned by flames. I’m not sure why it’s always easier to say something nasty about someone. It has something to do with grace. Working on the premise that I only have 10 summers, my choice is to go sailing as opposed to trying to change an Anonymous misconception.

  7. Vicki Moore

    January 8, 2008 at 2:28 am

    I think Larry speaks for me better than I do.

    The scenario is these folks come from an internet lead service. Don’t know them from a guy walking down the street. I could be putting Jeffery Dahmer in my car. I need some way to qualify them before I get out my lock box key. Except that they aren’t interested.

    They want information. They don’t want service – except for the taxi type. Their expectation – see Trulia – is that I’m going to give them a brain dump without any commitment.

    I’m wondering if in this new 2.0 world there should be a different approach – something I’ve not thought of or am not seeing. Maybe I’ve got to make the decision not to give IDX away. I don’t know. I’m looking for peer input.

  8. Ines

    January 8, 2008 at 7:35 am

    Larry – it’s not easy to bridge the web link to an actual meeting, but I have been doing it successfully. I guess there are different types of people, the ones that just want to web-browse and the ones that are ready for the next step (then you have to discover whether the ones ready for the next step want to browse or really make a move).

    My choice would always be sailing, but I will make it my project to change ONE person’s mind (not the whole world of non-believers).

    Vickie – I stopped giving IDX away and established a system by One Park Place where people sign up for the VIP system to get the whole listing information. I would be glad to tell you more about it. When the customer is ready, they contact you, then you talk to real interested customers.

  9. Denver Home Refinance

    January 8, 2008 at 10:08 am

    Good for you. Not many people would risk losing a dollar to demand respectful treatment. The way this slug treated you is a cost of technology. Because of telecommunications and the Internet, people are removed from one another. This guy wouldn’t have treated you this way to your face. It’s the price we pay, but I wish schools taught chivalry. Young men aren’t learning how to be gentlemen, and the same skills are lacking in girls. People are growing up to be social monsters. In contrast, it sounds like you handled the situation with dignity.

    As far as realtors being scum — well, many of them are. The same goes for mortgage brokers. There is a mortgage broker in the suite next to mine, and we often cross paths in the men’s restroom. This guy NEVER washes his hands. He’ll go straight from the restroom to shaking hands with someone in the hall. I cannot imagine how he handles his mortgage transactions.

    All that we can do is seek to be exceptional in a sea of muck.

  10. Larry Yatkowsky

    January 8, 2008 at 10:48 am

    Vicki, I think you speak just fine.

    Having reflected on Ines’ comment, it is possible you have been pre-qualifying and not have recognized it as such. While they may be permission based leads and are seeking further help of some sort, the type of help they are seeking does not fall within the scope of the service you provide. That service being one that makes a living. Review the value the lead service is delivering.

    As a side bar, be careful out there. Up here we’ve had a number of ladies get into very serious trouble upon meeting “leads” without prior in-depth qualifying.

    Denver – I’m ordering a box of latext gloves. Your response opens a new discussion on how our respective societies arrived at this junction of scumminess.

  11. Ines

    January 8, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Wade – thanks for totally grossing me out! doesn’t wash his hands???? That’s a clear sign of how he handles business – ICK!!

    Larry – the safety issue you point out is really important, no matter the city.

  12. Vicki Moore

    January 8, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Larry – “it is possible you have been pre-qualifying and not have recognized it as such.” I think you’re right. The frustration is that the ROI is not to my satisfaction.

    The service that Ines recommended seems to do a lot more filtering than my current service. It clearly indicates in bold color what the prospect is signing up for.

    The idea that I’m giving away too much has been an irritant for me and I need to make a correction.

    I have said to many people I will not meet a stranger. Get a clue. Which is one of the reasons face-to-face is crucial.

  13. Ines

    January 8, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Vicki – customers want to see listings, that’s the bottom line, and a lot will be willing to supply their e-mail address to get it without having to speak to an agent every time.

    There’s a fine line between providing the information the client wants and not having control on who gets it.

  14. Benn Rosales

    January 8, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    I was at red lobster the other day, and one of the wait staff didn’t wash his hands. Maybe I should start a blog about how waiters are scum.

  15. Ines

    January 8, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Benn – go for it!! touching lobster and touching THAT are very different, but I get where you are coming from.

  16. Benn Rosales

    January 8, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Well, perception is a muther- the guy simply looked in the restroom to make sure it was clean- but by some folks standard of human nature the guy is still scum. By that standard I should now blog about how that profession is in utter decay.

  17. Ines

    January 8, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    There are basic rules of hygene you crazy Benn – restaurant employees have to wash their hands when they go into the bathroom, use it or not. Are we off subject here? but please continue…..the subject at hand is what makes professions scum as perceived by the public.

  18. Benn Rosales

    January 8, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    So you agree because one waiter made a fatal mistake the wait industry is in utter decay?

  19. Ines

    January 8, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    One waiter making a disgusting mistake is a reflection on the whole “restaurant serving industry”! There should be more rules, there should be more restrictions! I will not eat at a restaurant again!!

    disclosure: for those reading this without a sense of humor……this is sarcasm and Benn is trying to make a point.

  20. Ines

    January 8, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    Benn – but you have to agree that it is a lot more than just one real estate agent that is screwing up.

  21. Benn Rosales

    January 8, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    Ines, I will when you admitt that even bank tellers piss you off but we do not blog about them as if the entire bank industry needs an overhaul.

  22. Ines

    January 8, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    Benn – people also stereotype about lawyers being jerks.

  23. Benn Rosales

    January 8, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    The good ones really are, the lousy ones are just pussies with bitchy personalities that probably don’t wash their hands.

    Seriously, I’ve actually writen on this recently- lawyers do not eat themselves alive publicly adding to mass hysteria about the profession. Their villan-like status leaves them to be a club of their own, monsters of their own bridges. If the light of day was ever shown on that industry, our legal system would stop on its axis.

    Make no mistake about it, lawyers know it and they count on it. If my lawyers were sweethearts, I’d probably fire them both. I pay damn good money for a pitbull.

    Relating this to the point- it is just lame to count an entire profession derailed because you have a minority of agents to the majority of the whole that are either stupid or down right negligent, but the same is said of even doctors, lawyers, brokers, politicians and the like. We’re talking about human beings here, there are 300 million plus of them here in America, and in that 300, you’re going to have a few stupid people.

    So let’s get real here. People want to sound smarter than the next guy, so better to scream fire at the top of your lungs. Have a bad agent? Fire them. Nasty service at a food place? Walk out. Bad civil servant? Don’t vote for ’em… seems pretty simple to me.

  24. Ines

    January 8, 2008 at 6:32 pm

    Not that I’m crying here but I can tell you that when Rick and I chose to get into this profession after both being in the corporate world, we were stunned at the lack of respect.

    People we thought were our friends changed their attitudes with us because we were now Realtors. (I thought it was fortunate because we got to see who our true friends were).

    We can complain all we want at why the public perception, but the truth is that it IS out there, like it or not.

    I’m not going to worry about the handfull of unethical agents doing business in my marketplace, I will worry about serving my clients right and in the process, if we happen to work with an inept agent, we will make it obvious and known how unprofessional they really are. (never by bad-mouthing, but by blowing the clients’ minds away with exceptional service and knowledge).

  25. Russell Shaw

    January 9, 2008 at 1:57 am

    Ines,

    It is obvious that you are a very nice person. Very. Wanting to turn a Realtor Hater into a raving fan may be quite a laudable goal. However, there are some people who you (or anyone else) isn’t going to “turn around” as they are so twisted inside that they can’t be turned. And unless you plan on turning your real estate practice into a sort of mental health clinic it is hard to think of something less productive to work on. Some people just aren’t very nice and I believe the smartest, most productive thing a Realtor can learn is to be able to spot which category the person they are talking to falls in – the 80% nice people or the 20% not so nice group. Included in the 20% (the Potential Trouble Source) are the hard core crazies (about 2 – 3% of the population, the actual Suppressives). The fact that they are not in an institution does not make them any less crazy or dangerous for a person to be connected to them. These people ARE the source of the world’s difficulties. There are 12 specific characteristics that these Anti-Social Personalities share (and 12 corresponding characteristics that the Social Personalities have).

    For anyone who would say, “What a load of crap. Real Estate agents are the scum of the earth. They live up to every stereotype. You’ve brought this upon yourselves. Now quit your whining and live up to what you are. But you’re such pathological liars, you even do that. You have to be scum and then lie about it. Typical. If it were up to me, all real estate agents would be tarred and feathered and set on fire. “ it is pretty easy to spot which group they are in. But some are more difficult to spot. You can see the list of the 12 characteristics here: https://www.tipsforsuccess.org/antisocial1.htm

  26. Ines

    January 9, 2008 at 8:32 am

    Russel,
    unfortunately for us, you are right and there are plenty of Pathological cases out there that I wouldn’t even get close to (and TG are easily identified).

    As for turning my real estate practice into a mental practice….don’t we do that already. I find myself counseling couples all the time – we do wear many hats in this business.

    Thanks for the site – it has great information. BTW – I may be a nice person, but I’m also a really mean one if I want to be and I find some of these cases fun (as weird as it may be). I promise to stay out of trouble, only if you do as well. : )

  27. Mariana

    January 9, 2008 at 9:40 am

    “The fact that they are not in an institution does not make them any less crazy or dangerous for a person to be connected to them.”

    Isn’t THAT the truth! To a degree I agree with Ines – we are already psuedo-mental-health clinics, but you make a very valid point, Russell – some people are just not worth the time or effert. There are plenty of non-crazies that we can choose to work with.

    I just happen to really enjoy the non-crazies who have only bad experiences and recognoze that I am different … restoring a bit of faith in our profession … one non-crazy-but-disgruntled home buyer or seller at a time.

  28. Mariana

    January 9, 2008 at 9:42 am

    (effert=effort … der.)

  29. Ines

    January 9, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    mariana – sounds like a good catch phrase to me!

    “one non-crazy-but-disgruntled home buyer or seller at a time”

  30. Norm Fisher

    January 9, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    I think Russell hits the nail on the head. Trust me. The person that left this comment despises almost everyone he comes into contact with. This is his attitude towards people in general. We can be thankful when the jerks so clearly identify themselves.

  31. Ines

    January 9, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    Norm – the guy who left that message is beyond our help – but something possitive came out of it – – -> this discussion. We would be lucky if all crazies would be this easily identified.

  32. Larry Yatkowsky

    January 9, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Side-bar to the topic at hand.
    Let’s Party – Or Realtors can be Violent Asseh…s too! Local paper reports about a Realtor on his way to Miami who says: “You don’t (bleeping)decide how much vodka I can drink. I’m going to (bleeping) meet you in the back and we’ll talk about this man to man. I’ll meet you off the airplane.”
    After diverting the plane to Denver he is arrested and now faces a $250,000 fine and 20 years for “interference with flight attendants” and a possible 2 year and $250,000 fine for sexual contact. The latter for telling a passenger he wanted to have sex with her. You would think his mother who is also a Realtor, would have taught him deportment.

  33. Ines

    January 9, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    Larry…now you did it! and you had to mention Miami didn’t you?

  34. Ines

    January 9, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    I guess coming to Miami gives people a passport of humility

  35. Mariana Wagner

    January 9, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    …Some people’s children.

  36. Larry Yatkowsky

    January 9, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    This, he does on the plane. Can you imagine if he actually made it to Miami. ;0
    As for mommy, Victoria, has very strong British up-tight attitudes. She too, is going to pay a heavy price. Not pretty all round.

  37. Ines

    January 9, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    Let’s go back to Benn’s story, I like waiter bashing better.

  38. Andrew Wilton (pseudonym)

    January 9, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    As a fellow agent, I’m afraid I don’t agree with most of the supportive comments here. Why? Because it’s clear to me you may perpetuate a stereotype on your own without realizing you do so.

    You write in defense of yourself with this caller, in a somewhat indignant tone that you have a degree in architecture. How is that exactly relevant to your being an outstanding real estate professional?

    In my urban office, there are many agents with graduate and even doctoral degrees who left other professions to become real estate agents. Yet when those very same agents with degrees need advice in transactions, who do they turn to? The guy in the office without any degree yet years in the profession and a following of enormously successful clients with multiple degrees.

    Perhaps the next posting will be about your real estate knowledge and success in countering an obnoxious and angry caller, not a degree you possess.

  39. Larry Yatkowsky

    January 9, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    Good god – help me un-perpetuate!
    As an open minded cheeky individual possessing a degree, I beg you please, oh omnipotent pseudonym, enlighten me. What unique characteristic sets you apart from us, the disenchanted throng of educated self-annointed indignant sterotypical “fellow” waiter-bashing realtors. I presume it’s more than cologne!

  40. Ines

    January 9, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    Larry – first let me tell you that you made my night.

    Andrew – before you go on and attack people, it would be beneficial that you learn a little about me and my real estate business. The only agents that get defensive at the fact that I flaunt my architecture degree (and proudly) are those that feel threatened by it.

    I am not saying that because I have a degree I am better than you, I am saying I bring a different type of value to the table.

    It’s interesting that from that long post, the only thing you picked up on is the fact that I am an architect (maybe my strategy is working).

    The stereotype from the consumer (not other agents) begins with the lack of education most agents have and the fact it only takes a week’s course to become one. I really believe in experience, but I believe in education more – put them both together and you have a winning combination.

  41. Larry Yatkowsky

    January 9, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    Ines,

    No worries. I was never big on self-basting boneless turkeys.

  42. Vicki Moore

    January 9, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    And pleeese, I don’t want to listen to Ines talk about her amazing, fantastic and overwhelmingly wonderful realtor skills AGAIN.

    Really, look at what the point of the post was, not the fact waaawy down at the bottom she indicates she has an architectural degree, which indicates to me that Ines has a brain and is rightly proud of it. She begins the post with “head-banging” experience. That’s the point of the post, not her degree.

  43. Cyndee Haydon

    March 27, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    Ines – this post hit home today – I just love the way you cut to the chase.

  44. ines

    March 27, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    Hey Cyndee – I know you’ve been there – now let’s change the perception around! 🙂

  45. Robin

    May 23, 2008 at 11:11 am

    Ines, you earned your designation, no reason not to be proud of it and living in South florida..especially in Miami,,design knowledge can be very important

  46. Ines

    May 23, 2008 at 11:36 am

    Robin – absolutely! We all have something to offer and we need to make sure “that something” is known and is of value to the consumer. No shame in being an architect.

  47. Sue

    July 4, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    I’ve been selling real estate for 8 years. I can still remember being the recipient of hatred from various people for no apparent reason. I would get accused of doing things that I had no idea I could even do. This I know in retrospect, of course. It was very disturbing and still is, however, I am not quite as shocked by it as I was in the earlier years. In my opinion, it is ignorance and the post to Mariana strikes me as coming from someone who is very unbalanced and possibly dangerous. He is discredited on the spot by what he writes.

  48. ines

    July 4, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    Sue,
    Any time you generalize (whether towards an industry, a race or whatever), you discredit yourself on the spot – the question is what we do on a daily basis to prove these people wrong that hate our industry in such a way.

    I just received a buyer referral this week from the blogosphere and learned that the buyers were working with agents that had never physically shown them a house, instead gave them lockbox combinations for them to go on their own.

    If we can do it one client at a time, it WILL make a difference (IMHO)

  49. Susan

    July 5, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    >>>I just received a buyer referral this week from the blogosphere and learned that the buyers were working with agents that had never physically shown them a house, instead gave them lockbox combinations for them to go on their own.

    That is bad…unfortunately, I have heard of this before. Yes, there are Realtors that don’t conduct themselves appropriately, like any other business.

    There will be unethical people in every profession/industry whether its the waiter not washing his hands, lawyers, athletes, etc. I am not sure why Realtors get hit so hard. Perhaps it is the lack of extensive education required to be a Realtor. I too came from the corporate world and was quite shocked at the lack of respect. As you know, selling real estate over the years arms a Realtor with a wealth of knowledge that can benefit a buyer or seller. Generally speaking, I don’t believe the public fully appreciates the value that a good realtor brings to the table and in many instances think that we are all alike and our only use is to open the door. (and as you stated above, sometimes avoiding that)..

    Be it as it may, I will continue to conduct my business ethically and disregard the negativity and anger. The angry “hate” mail I believe comes from people that are not only hating our industry but alot of things in life.

    How is this for timing…as I am writing this, I just got an angry email thru my #1 website. I cannot post it as the language is very bad. Oh well…at least I’m getting noticed. 🙂

  50. ines

    July 5, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Susan, I think the public that doesn’t appreciate the value a good Realtor brings to the table is that same public that has never worked with a good Realtor. How could they possibly know what they are missing if they haven’t been exposed to it?

    We recently talked to a seller in a Miami neighborhood who told us that he was using one of the long time local Realtors not because they were good, but because they were there, no matter the complaints and the horror stories he had heard.

    Blogging gets the word out there and people can see what we are about first hand – we are able to reach the “frustrated consumer” now – not a bad deal.

  51. Susan

    July 5, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    Good news!! My recent nasty email thru my site seems more like to be from a competitor.

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Opinion Editorials

Ways to socialize safely during quarantine

(EDITORIAL) Months of isolation due to quarantine is causing loneliness for many, but joining virtual social groups from home may help fill the need for interaction.

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Quarantining, sheltering in place, staying home. We’re tired of hearing it; we’re tired of doing it. Yet, it’s what we still need to be doing to stay safe for a while longer. All of this can be lonesome. As the days turn into weeks and weeks into months, the alone time is getting to even the most introverted among us.

Solitary confinement is considered one of the most psychologically damaging punishments a human can endure. The New Yorker reported on this in a 1992 study of prisoners in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, as well as Vietnam veterans who experienced isolation. These studies showed that prisoners who had experienced solitary confinement demonstrated similar brain activity to those who’d suffered a severe head injury, noting that “Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.”

We aren’t meant to be solitary creatures. Your “pandemic brain” is real. That fogginess, the lack of productivity, can be attributed to many things, including anxiety, but being kept apart from other humans is a big part of it too. Be kind to yourself, give yourself grace, and join others virtually. Be it an app, a class, a Facebook group, a chat room, or a livestream, someone somewhere is out there waiting to connect with you too.

The good news? We are lucky enough to live in an era of near limitless ways to interact socially online. Sure, it is different, but it is something. It’s important. The best thing about this type of social interaction is being able to hone in on your specific interests, though I’d caution you against getting caught in an online echo chamber. Diversity of interests, personality, and opinion make for a richer experience, with opportunities for connecting and expanding your worldview.

Here are a few suggestions on ways to socialize while staying home and staying safe. Communicating with other humans is good for you, physically and mentally.

Interactive Livestreams on Twitch:

Twitch is best known as a streaming service for video game fans, but it offers multiple streams appealing to different interests. This is more than passive watching (although that is an option, too) as Twitch livestream channels also have chat rooms. Twitch is fun for people who like multi-tasking because the chat rooms for popular livestream channels can get busy with chatter.

While people watch the Twitch hosts play a video game, film a live podcast, make music or art, mix cocktails, or dance, they can comment on what they’re watching, make suggestions, ask questions, crack jokes, and get to know each other (by Twitch handle, so it is still as anonymous as you want it to be) in the chat room. The best hosts take time every so often to interact directly with the chat room questions and comments.

Many Twitch channels develop loyal followers who get to know each other, thus forming communities. I have participated in the Alamo Drafthouse Master Pancake movie mocks a few times because they are fun and local to Austin, where I live. Plus, in my non-quarantine life, I would go to Master Pancake shows live sometimes. The chat room feels familiar in a nice way. While watching online is free, you can (and totally should) tip them.

Online trivia in real time:

There are some good options for real-time online trivia, but I’m impressed with the NYC Trivia League’s model. They have trivia games online on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The NYC Trivia League seems to have figured out a good way to run the game live while keeping answers private from the other teams. They run games on Instagram Live with a live video of the host, and participants answer via the question feature. Clever!

Online book club:

First I have to shout out my Austin local independent bookstore, BookPeople, because they are fantastic. They run book clubs throughout the year, along with readings, book signings, and all things book-related. BookPeople hosts several online book clubs during these lockdown days, and most people will find something that appeals to them.

I’m also impressed with this list from Hugo House, a writer’s resource based out of Seattle. This list includes Instagram and Goodread book clubs, book clubs for Black women, rebels, and poetry lovers. The Financial Diet recommends the Reddit book club, if you are comfortable with the Reddit format. Please note that it’s a busy place, but if you like Reddit, you already know this.

Cooking class or virtual tasting:

This is doubly satisfying because you can follow these chefs in real time, and you end up with a meal. There are a couple on Instagram Live, such as The Culinistas or Chef Massimo Bottura.

You can also participate in virtual tastings for wine, whiskey, or chocolate, though you will have to buy the product to participate in the classes (usually held over Zoom or Facebook Live). If you are in Austin, Dallas, or Houston, I recommend BeenThere Locals. The cost of the course includes the wine, spirits, or cooking kit in most cases, and all of the money goes to the business and expert hosting the class.

Look for your favorite wine, spirits, cheese, chocolate makers, and chefs that are local to you to find a similar experience. Most either prepare the class kit for pickup or delivery within a local area.

Quarantine chat:

To interact with another quarantined person seeking social interaction, there’s Quarantine Chat. Quarantine chat is one of the ways to connect through the Dialup app, available on iOS and Android devices. Sign up to make and receive calls when you want to speak with someone. The Dialup app pairs you randomly with another person for a phone conversation, at a scheduled time, either with anyone or with someone with shared interests.

Quarantine chat takes it a step further with calls at random times. When your quarantine chat caller calls, you will not see their number (or they yours), only the “Quarantine Chat” caller ID. If you are unable to pick up when they call, they will be connected with someone else, so there is no pressure to answer. It’s nice to hear someone else’s voice, merely to talk about what you’ve been cooking or what hilarious thing your pet is doing.

Play Uno:

Uno Freak lets people set up games and play Uno online with friends or strangers. Players do not need to register or download anything to play. Uno Freak is web-based.

Talk to mental health professionals:

If your state of loneliness starts sliding toward depression, call someone you can speak to right away to talk over your concerns. When in doubt, call a trained professional! Here are a few resources:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET, 800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org.
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to this text line 24/7 for someone to text with who will also be able to refer you to other resources: U.S. and Canada: 74174, U.K. 85258, Ireland: 50808.
  • Psych Central has put together this comprehensive list of crisis intervention specialists and ways to contact them immediately.

There are many ways to connect even though we are physically apart. These are just a few real time ways to interact with others online. If you want something a little more flesh and blood, take a walk around the block or even sit in a chair in front of where you live.

Wave at people from afar, and remember that we have lots of brilliant doctors and scientists working on a way out of this. Hang in there, buddy. I’m rooting for you. I’m rooting for all of us.

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Opinion Editorials

Working remotely: Will we ever go back? (Probably not)

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Now that the pandemic has opened the door on working remotely, there’s no way we’ll put the genie back in the bottle. But, here’s some ways you can adapt.

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Woman working remotely on her couch with a laptop on her lap.

When it comes to working remotely, will the toothpaste ever go back in the tube?

Mark Zuckerberg recently said, “We are going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale…” By 2030, Zuckerberg anticipates that over half of Facebook’s workforce will be remote. Many other companies are jumping on the work from home bandwagon. Working remotely has helped many businesses manage the pandemic crisis, but it’s unsure what form remote working will take over the next 10 years.

We know that employees are responding positively to WFH, as reported in this article – Employers: Lacking remote work options may cause you to lose employees. As offices transition to a post-COVID normal, here are some things to consider about your office and remote work.

What does your business gain from allowing workers to WFH?
The future of remote work depends on a conscious application of WFH. It’s not just as easy as moving employees out of the office to home. You have to set up a system to manage workers, wherever they are working. The companies with good WFH cultures have set up rules and metrics to know whether it’s working for their business. You’ll need to have technology and resources that let your teams work remotely.

Can your business achieve its goals through remote work?
The pandemic may have proved the WFH model, but is this model sustainable? There are dozens of benefits to remote work. You can hire a more diverse workforce. You may save money on office space. Employees respond well to remote work. You reduce your carbon emissions.

But that can’t be your only measure of whether remote work fits into your vision for your organization. You should be looking at how employees will work remotely, but you need to consider why employees work remotely.

The work paradigm is shifting – how will you adapt?
The work environment has shifted over the past century. Remote work is here to stay, but how it fits into your company should be based on more than what employees want. You will have to work closely with managers and HR to build the WFH infrastructure that grows with your organization to support your teams.

We don’t know exactly how remote work will change over the next decade, but we do know that the workplace is being reinvented. Don’t just jump in because everyone is doing it. Make an investment in developing your WFH plan.

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Opinion Editorials

The truth about unemployment from someone who’s been through it

(EDITORIAL) Unemployment benefits aren’t what you thought they were. Here’s a first-hand experience and what you need to know.

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unemployment

Have I ever told you how I owed the government over two grand because of unemployment in 2019, and only just finished paying it back this year?

This isn’t exactly the forum for memoirs, but this is relevant to everyone. So I’ll tell y’all anyway.

It all started back in 2018 when I came into work early, microwaved my breakfast, poured coffee, and got pulled into a collaboration room to hear, “We love you and your work, April, but we’ve been bought out and you’re being laid off.”

It was kind of awkward carrying my stuff out to the car with that Jimmy Dean sandwich in my mouth.

More awkward still was the nine months of unemployment I went through afterwards. Between the fully clothed shower crying, the stream of job denial, catering to people who carried rocks in their nostrils at my part-time job (yes, ew, yes, really), and almost dying of no-health-insurance-itis, I learned a lot!

The bigger lesson though, came in the spring of the following year when I filed my taxes. I should back up for a moment and take the time to let those of you unfamiliar with unemployment in Texas in on a few things that aren’t common knowledge.

1: You’re only eligible if you were laid off. Not if you had quit. Not fired. Your former company can also choose to challenge your eligibility for benefits if they didn’t like your face on the way out. So the only way you’re 100% guaranteed to get paid in (what the state calls) “a timely manner”, is a completely amicable split.

2: Overpayments have to go back. Immediately. If there’s an error, like several thousand of Texans found out this week, the government needs that cash back before you can access any more. If you’re not watching your bank account to make sure you’re getting the exact same check each time and you have an overpayment, rest assured that mistake isn’t going to take long to correct. Unfortunately, if you spent that money unknowingly–thought you got an ‘in these uncertain times’ kinder and gentler adjustment and have 0 income, you have a problem. Tying into Coronavirus nonsense is point three!

3: There are no sick days. If ever you’re unable to work for any reason, be it a car accident, childbirth, horrible internal infection (see also no-health-insurance-itis), you are legally required to report it, and you will not be paid for any days you were incapacitated. Personally, my no-health-insurance-itis came with a bad fever and bedrest order that axed me out of my part time job AND killed my unemployment benefits for the week I spent getting my internal organs to like me again. But as it turned out, the payment denial came at the right time because–

4: Unemployment benefits are finite. Even if you choose to lie on your request forms about how hard you’re searching for work, coasting is ill-advised because once the number the state allots you runs out…it’s out. Don’t lie on your request forms, by the way. In my case, since I got cut from my part-time gig, I got a call from the Texas Workforce Commission about why my hours were short. I was able to point out where I’d reported my sickness to them and to my employer, so my unpaid week rolled over to a later request date. I continued to get paid right up until my hiring date which was also EXACTLY when my benefits ran out.

Unemployment isn’t a career, which is odd considering the fact that unemployment payments are qualified by the government as income.

Ergo, fact number five…

5: Your benefits? They’re taxed.

That’s right, you will be TAXED for not having a job.

The stereotype of the ‘lazy unemployment collector burdening society’ should be fading pretty quickly for the hitherto uninformed about now.

To bring it back to my story, I’d completely forgotten that when I filed for unemployment in the first place, I’d asked for my taxes NOT to be withheld from it–assuming that I wasn’t going to be searching for full time work for very long. I figured “Well, I’ll have a tax refund coming since I’ll get work again no problem, it’ll cancel out.”

Except, it was a problem. Because of the nine month situation.

I’d completely forgotten about it by the time I threw myself into my new job, but after doing my taxes, triple checking the laws and what I’d signed, it was clear. Somehow…despite being at my lowest point in life, I owed the highest amount in taxes, somewhere around the 2k mark.

Despite being based on a system that’s tied to how much income you were getting before, and all the frustrating “safeguards” put in place to keep payments as low and infrequent as possible, Uncle Sam still wants a bite out of the gas-station Hostess pie that is your unemployment check. And as I’m writing this, more and more people are finding that out. And even as we enter 2021, there is still more to be aware of – we’re not out of the woods yet.

I’d like to end this on a more positive note… So let’s say we’ve all been positively educated! That’s a net gain, surely.

Keep your heads up, and masked.

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