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Opinion Editorials

Dress for Suck-cess



An UnReal Estate Film Treatment:

C’mon – tell the truth – you’ve seen many agents who present such a bad image you know even their own parole officers wouldn’t hire them.  Today at an open house I saw an agent (with his client) who was decked out in shorts and flip flops. By contrast, at the same open house there was an agent in a very tasteful skirt. However, the agent’s name was Steven. Okay, I made up the last one, but you get my point. Thus, I have decided to create a mini film treatment for your consideration based on these characters. I will be accepting submissions of resumes for those who wish to play the lead roles. Please remove all coffee stains from photos before submitting.

Fade In:

As the sun lifts its sleepy head over the Los Angeles skyline, Vivian enters Motley Real Estate, her equally sleepy head balancing an enormous straw hat designed to cover her unwashed hair. Grabbing a cup of java, she makes her way to her desk as Tommy watches from across the room, enjoying her entrance. Vivian’s tight skirt screams in pain as Vivian sits, and her ample bosom tries to escape the confines of the extremely low-cut sweater she is almost wearing.  “Wow,” Tommy sighs as he pokes one finger through the hole in the knee of his jeans, “those mountains deserve their own zip code.” As he is visualizes skiing those Black Diamond slopes, Vivian wipes coffee off her listing sheets and shoves them into her purse.

In the chair next to him, Hilda grins as she watches Tommy watching Vivian. “She’s dressed up for a listing appointment,” Hilda informs him as she stirs her coffee with her long acrylic nail. When she withdraws her finger from the hot liquid, Hilda notices that the nail has melted into a perfect question mark.  It now matches the other nails. The lovely hue of her talons reminds her of lemon tarts. In fact, she thinks, I may even have some lemon tart still hiding under one of them.

Tommy, still observing Vivian, sighs again. “Oh, I thought she was just returning from her date last night,” he responds. “You know, Hilda, I have a listing appointment today myself.”

“Great,” Hilda says with her usual enthusiasm. “The spiky hair and all those chains you have on really do make you look cool. Are you meeting a musician?”

“No,” Tommy grins, “this is a big fish from a stock brokerage in Beverly Hills. My dad referred him to me. That’s why I dressed up.”

“Well I’m sure he’ll love that Snoop Dogg Tee shirt, Tommy,” she says while wetting one finger and rubbing some dirt off the heel of her worn hooker pumps. “Be sure to ask Mel over there for some pointers – he deals with a lot of executive types.”

Cut To:

Hilda is using a magic marker to polish the toe of her shoe when Mel slides his chair across the floor, going zero to twenty in 10 seconds at the thought of sucking up a little attention. He lands squarely at her side. When his chair stops rolling, he touches his heavily sprayed coif to make sure every hair is still in place, pulls his powder blue trouser leg down over his pink sock, then adjusts his mauve jacket. A clump of rogue chest hair peeks over his top button like a rabid Pekingese. “Ohhhh,” smiles Hilda at the whiff of his pungent cologne.

“Hey, man” Tommy grins, “that spray-on tan of yours sure warms up the whole office like a nuclear reactor. I like that hint of orange that you’ve been turning lately.”

“Thanks, son,” Mel oozes, “I’m cooler than the Dogg, that’s fo shizl. I heard Hilda mention that you needed some pointers with the executive types. The best advice I can give you is to wear a jacket, kid. I have a plaid one in my Vette if you want to borrow one. And get yourself some reptile shoes.”

“Alligator? But they’re endangered!”

“Hell, then get Iguana, I don’t care. I’m just trying class ya up a bit, kid.”

And Along Comes Harry

Overhearing this, lanky Harry Houston stops while passing by. He shakes what’s left of yesterday’s lunch out of his long dreads and props himself onto the edge of Tommy’s desk. “If you really want to get business man,” he says while weighing in on the subject, “ask Georgia what her secret is. She closed four deals this week.”

“You sure know a lot about the office for a janitor,” Tommy replies in admiration, backing off from the smoke-and-cigarette cloud that clings to Harry like a second skin.

“I’m an agent, Porcupine Head,'” Harry corrects him while cleaning his cigarette stained nails with the tip of a pair of scissors. He sways gently as if imagining the ocean breeze in his hair. The heels of his boots are worn down so well that he is able to rock back in forth like a Weeble and still remain standing – always an advantage for Harry, who tends to nap on his feet a lot.

Shoving a pencil between his spiked locks, Tommy scratches his head and shoots Harry a puzzled look. “Oh, sorry about the misunderstanding, Dude,” he mumbles. “Are you referring to that Georgia over there?  She closed four deals this week? But isn’t she our cleaning woman???”

“Nope,” replies Harry. “That pine smell comes from her skin ointment.”

“…Oops, my bad.” Tommy says with chagrin. “Hey, Georgia,” he calls out to her, “what’s your secret for success?”

Enter Georgia

Georgia rambles over, stopping occasionally to yank up her pantyhose, which are migrating South like a flock of geese. “Oh, I just know how to handle myself,” she brags, “and I pay close attention to details, Toby.”  (Tommy doesn’t correct her on his name, bowing to her seniority. In fact, he momentarily even considers changing his name out of respect.)

“Well, I plan to learn from the best, Georgia,” he explains.

“Well, then pay attention, kid,” Georgia growls, a bit perturbed that Tommy’s attention has already drifted. In fact, the entire group has suddenly been rendered speechless by:

A Cloud of Candi

There is shock and awe at the sight of Candi, the new agent with the dark roots and the platinum mane. Her back side is definitely a distraction to the entire group as she bends over in her napkin-size skirt to retrieve her eye pencil. As her skirt hikes up and momentarily becomes a belt, they all cock their heads to one side to get the wide lens view of Candi’s candy. Suddenly Candi uprights herself, looks around, and then slaps herself loudly on the forehead. “Oops,” she giggles, “I think I’m in the wrong office. I’m with the real estate company down the hall!” She sashays toward the door, bounces off the door frame, and loses a few more IQ points in the collision. As she makes her spectacular exit, her Poppin Fresh giggles trail behind her behind.

After a few silent minutes, they all shake off their shock and drift back into the conversation. Well, all except Harry, who is now asleep while swaying in his rockabye boots. Vivian slithers over, her hat shading her eyes and her hips shading the rest of the office.

“So who is your clientele, and why are you able to close so many deals, Georgia?” Vivian presses. They all lean in closer to hear her response, knowing that she has a secret that somehow eludes the rest of them. What is it? How can they also have the secret to cultivating great client relationships? How do they make the same impression on people that Georgia does?

The Secret of Suckcess

Georgia leans back in her chair and props her thick ankles on the desk, her feet protruding over the sides of her shoes like two over-baked popovers. When she raises her arms to beckon forth her followers, the stains that line the armpits of her blouse form a juicy smile. She whispers dramatically as she imparts her secrets for a winning career: “As you have probably noticed, I am the the queen of dressing for success.”

Silence. Then: “Ahhhhh,” they exhale in unison. Georgia nods her head and shoots them all a supercilious grin. “I was taught by my father who was a very dapper business man.”

“Was he an agent also?” Tommy inquires, taking notes on a napkin.

“Hardly!” she sniffs, pausing for drama. Then, as if giving a benediction, she delivers the secret: “He ran a clown college.”  She waits for the effect. The group, one by one, absorbs the information with slack jaws and nods, unified in their appreciation of her sartorial heritage. Georgia then stands imperiously, her slip winking at them from below her hemline, and gives them all a Queen Elizabeth wave. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I must be on my way,” she apologizes, “I need to tend to my client base. They adore me and they love my sense of style.”

“Are they clowns, too?” Tommy asks.

“No, Toby, it’s the Square-Dancing Society of Bakersfield.”

A reverential silence then: Loud applause breaks out as she exits, one broken heal clickety, clack clacking as if to salute her splendor. Several agents wipe tears from their eyes.

After a beat, Vivian jumps into Tommy’s arms and throws her hat in the air. (Cue the theme from “Officer and a Gentleman.”) And then…

Fade To Black 

Casting Director’s Note: Any similarities to real persons is accidental. Yeah, fat chance. If you feel you are exactly right for any of these roles – and some of you KNOW you are – please turn in your R.E. license before auditioning. And keep your dirty shoes off my casting couch!

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  1. Jonathan Dalton

    April 10, 2009 at 9:32 am

    > Today at an open house I saw an agent (with his client) who was decked out in shorts and flip flops

    Was this their first time out together or had they established a relationship long before based on more than clothing? Or would the latter possibility ruin the snarky fun?

    When it’s 100 degrees outside, I’ve shown homes in shorts and a golf shirt to clients who a) I already have established a relationship with and b) after picking up the obvious hints that this wasn’t a fashion show – such as their own shorts, golf shirts and flip flops.

    If I found my clients a good house at an excellent price, I don’t think they’d care if I were in a tube top and hot pants. It’s about the results, not the aesthetics.

  2. Ken Montville - The MD Suburbs of DC

    April 10, 2009 at 10:29 am

    Gwen, I nearly pee’d my pants laughing at the film treatment. Hey, I don’t wanna star in it, I just wanna watch.

    Seriously, I wrote something along these lines on Active Rain and most of the responses were similar to Jonathan’s – dress to the client and relationship. You bring in a whole new perspective: What about the people who are not your client who will run into you?

    Just because our clients don’t care how they dress (is that a clue as to what they think about us?) doesn’t mean we shouldn’t “dress the part.”

    I’m on board with the weather thing. I understand it’s important not to be sweatin’ like a hog while your out showing property. There’s ways to project professionalism without resorting to, er, resort wear.

    Disclosure: I’ve been known to wear jeans and Topsiders while showing property. I always dress for the paperwork and really dress for settlement. But that’s just me.

  3. BawldGuy

    April 10, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Marry me.

  4. Brian Brady

    April 10, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    “Marry me.”

    No, pick me. You had me at Vivian

  5. Gwen Banta

    April 10, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Ahhhh – I love the support, and I would say “I do” to each of my marriage proposals if I lived in Utah. I am so happy you all got my satire. Someone on Active Rain said she hires people based on their record of success and not based on something as “superficial” as how they look. I would venture a guess that if they are successful enough to be hired, they do not look like Georgia and the crew at Motley real Estate. Granted, satire utilizes hyperbole, but the basic truth remains; and I am sure you have all seen characteristics such as these in your fellow agents, albeit maybe not so many in one character. Jonathan makes a good point that there are circumstances where casual is appropriate, but unfortunately, many people (such as Tommy in the “film treatment”) are not attune to what is appropriate for the venue or the client. And I bet Jonathan wears clean shorts and shakes the crumbs from his hair before leaving the house. Truly thought, I’d really like to see Jonathan in the tube top. C’mon Jonathan – do it for us!

  6. Missy Caulk

    April 10, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Gwen there is a great photo of Jonathan on Flickr at Inman in San Francisco if you really want to peak.

    I dress up the first time we meet, then it is kacki’s and polo’s for me, with nice Brighton flip flops in the summer.

    In the winter it is boots.

    Yesterday my daughter went out in jeans to show a house to a buyer she had spoken to many times on the phone. Mom was not happy. Ha He had jeans and hair in a pony tail…so Ann Arbor and they hit it off great.

    Very funny read!

  7. Gwen Banta

    April 10, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Your Mom taught you right, Missy. And obviously your daughter learned from you because she was able to discern the client’s level of casualness. Too many agents do not do this, they just dress for themselves and not the occasion. I bet she was clean, too. What actually inspired me to write this was the comment made by my lovely European clients who told me they dumped their last agent because she embarrassed them; and because of her sloppiness, they could not take her seriously.

    Does that photo of Jonathan you mentioned show him in a tube top. That’s the money shot I’m waiting for! Thanks for your comment and support, Missy.

  8. Jonathan Dalton

    April 10, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    It wasn’t a tube top not was it hot pants.

    The satire wasn’t lost on me … I used to specialize in it once upon a time before I became old and cranky. Maybe I’m still wound up about an iPhone thing from Twitter earlier in the week.

    Local custom rules, though. People hire me because they connect with me on some level. If they want someone who looks good in a suit, I’m not their Huckleberry. (For that matter if they want someone who looks good in general, I’m screwed.)

    But I can show you dozens – no, make that hundreds – of local agents who look the part better than me and know less about the business than Tobey.

  9. Gwen Banta

    April 11, 2009 at 12:13 am

    I agree completely, Jonathan – dress is only part of the package, but unfortunately, tacky dress can undermine an agent’s genius by presenting an image of lack of attention to detail. I have clients right now who dumped their last agent because she embarrassed them in her disgusting appearance. (I know her personally, and she is one smart cookie, but she always has food all over her and smelly hair.) Casual dress is certainly called for when the occasion warrants. I am sure you are always appropriate for the occasion. That being said, I heard that you’re good-looking, so I still want to see those hot pants!

  10. Aria Kilpatrick - Austin Homes & Land

    April 11, 2009 at 7:31 am

    This is true, it can be hard to find the balance between being yourself and dressing the part. You have to find work clothes that you’re comfortable in that both give a professional image but don’t leave you looking like you’re trying to hard.

    This is always a challenge for me. I look young so I always have to be careful not to dress young!

  11. Gwen Banta

    April 13, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Great comment, Aria – you addressed something I failed to address. The argument was never about being CASUAL, but about being APPROPRIATE in order to convey the right message to ones clients. As someone who is older than you (ouch, that hurt), I do not share your problem, but I can see how important it would be to your clients to feel that you have had enough experience to have gained the necessary skills to represent them well. I was married to a doctor who actually lost patients because he looked so young they thought he was green, when actually he was a very skilled practioner. So kudos to you for having the foresight to know how to present an image appropriate to the situation!

  12. Bob

    April 13, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    In 20 years I have seen it all.

    My litmus test starts with having to spell, then define, “fiduciary”. Get that right and we’ll talk about the dress code after we determine whether or not you can correctly fill out a purchase contract and write a counter offer that actually makes sense. Of course this assumes that it even gets this far as I will have read your AR content to see if you managed not to break any FH or other laws.

  13. Gwen Banta

    April 13, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    I guess you missed the point of satire…or are you just cranky today, Bob?

  14. Gwen Banta

    April 13, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    You know, I just re-read your comment, and I don’t think all the “you’s” were referring to me personally, so maybe you weren’t being cranky. I do agree that knowledge and experience are the most important requirements of our job. Appropriateness of dress is unimportant without it, because if an agent lacks those things, he should STAY HOME OR GET SOME MORE EDUCATION.

  15. Bob

    April 13, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Gwen, my apologies for the misunderstanding due to poor writing on my end. I most certainly was not referring to you personally.

    I actually love satire and got it all.

    A few years back in the go-go years, there was an agent in an office I used to work in who was a cross between your Vivian and Candi. She did extremely well picking up prospective male buyers at Starbucks. At one company sponsored meeting at the races, she showed up in a dress that required more double-sided tape than JLo’s green Versace dress. At least I think it was a dress – but I suppose it could have been a swimsuit cover up sans swim suit.

    Her career ended abruptly a few months later when one of her sugar daddy buyers sued the brokerage over a $2.2 million deal she had him in that went bad. Something about the contract…

    After that the manager enacted a firm rule about not hiring people with skill sets that involved brass poles.

  16. Gwen Banta

    April 13, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    That’s hysterical, Bob – sad but hysterical. I know an agent who always wore polyester pants that were closer in consistency to plastic than to fabric. While heating food during his open house, he was leaning against the oven when the seat of his pants melted to the oven door. Now I suppose one could argue that his bad sense of style was meaningless in light of his knowledge of our business, but the fact that he signed his clients names for them “as a service” would render that argument useless I’d say. This underscores your point that we need to develop a complete, professional package.

    I suppose brass pole skills could be entertaining at an office party, but it’s hard to imagine the application of that skill at a listing appointment. (But maybe I have a lack of imagination.) I may start hitting the local Starbucks though…if I can find my J Lo dress and some tape!

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Multi-member Zoom call on a Apple Mac laptop with a blue mug of black coffee next to it.

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