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Underpricer, Overpricer, Slickster, Trickster

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Image courtesy of Bob Fornal


The Importance of a Reputation

I work in a fairly small market. While there are close to 2000 agents, only about half of them are really active in the business. Over time, you get to know what niche other agents have, how they price their listings, and what type of clients they take on. Last week I went on broker tour with a group of agents. As we would drive up to the house, the typical conversation in the car would be something like this:

  • “Who’s listing is it? Oh, Jane Smith? It will be overpriced.”
  • “Who’s listing is it? Oh, Dan Smith? It is probably a bad remodel.”
  • Who’s listing is it? Oh, Lucille Ball? She always has cute listings. It is probably priced well too.

Over time, we each build our reputation. Easy to work with. Ethical. Slick. Take overpriced listings. Takes great listings. Honest and ethical or an agent who fails to disclose. Good or bad, our peers make judgements about us and how we handle our business.

Whether we like it or not, building a strong reputation with our peers can impact our business. I know that I have pulled deals together that would not have come together if it wasn’t because the other agent not only knew me but respected me.

There are some agents you just don’t want to deal with

Can you think of an agent (or two) who you just don’t want to do a deal with? Agents whose listings you just don’t want to show? As our market has adjusted, the reputation of the agent has become even more important. With the high level of listing inventory available in most real estate markets, agents have a choice of properties to show to prospective buyers. There is likely to be more listings available to show than you have time to actually show your buyer. With limited time, and similar properties, which listing is going to be shown?

Hands down the house with the agent you like, trust and want to close a transaction with.

People talk. Agents talk. If an agent has a bad experience with you, I guarantee they will tell other agents about it. The buzz on the street is that Agent D didn’t disclose that a slide occurred on that property. Hmm, if they did that on one house, what might they fail to disclosure about this listing?


Image Courtesy of Molly Pop


How do you want to be known?

What is your reputation in your market? How do you want to be known? Warren Buffett says, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

I can tell you the reputation I want. I want to be know as a good agent who works very hard for her clients. I want to be known as the agent who takes nice, well priced listings. I want to be known as the agent who always makes the right ethical choices, even if it means I don’t get paid. I want to be known as the agent you want to have on the other side because I do everything in my power to get the job done.

Every day we have choices to make about how we manage our businesses. For the most part, we have control over the reputation we earn. Generally, our actions dictate our reputations.

If you think about how you want to be known, the action steps you need to take are crystal clear.

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently…Warren Buffett

Ginger Wilcox is a Broker Associate at Alain Pinel in Marin County, California in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is an accomplished speaker, writer and trainer on the real estate industry, online marketing and social media strategy. Ginger is the publisher of the Marin Real Estate Guide -"Blog by the Bay," a highly regarded Bay Area real estate web site. For more information about Ginger, visit gingerwilcox.com.

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36 Comments

36 Comments

  1. Jonathan Dalton

    August 3, 2008 at 10:23 am

    It happens to some degree here, but it’s much harder when you’ve got 40,000 licensed and maybe half that legitimately active agents running around. Odds of running into someone you’ve dealt with are relatively low.

  2. Dan Connolly

    August 3, 2008 at 10:33 am

    I have seen that for years, especially in the overpricing department. There are some agents here who have developed a rep for “shopping their contracts”, which means that if there are multiple bids on a property, they always find client of their own, or one of their friends who wins the bid. Now that the market has softened, I think these guys are suffering.

    I know it is a double edged sword, but when you are competing with the less that competent agents for a listing, this idea of never saying anything negative about another REALTOR is troubling to me. Especially if you know that they are notorious for never returning calls in a timely manner, shopping contracts, overpricing listings, etc.

  3. Ken Brand

    August 3, 2008 at 11:10 am

    No Kidding and AMEN! Our office (70+ agents) works and plays primarily in a Master Planned Community of about 90,000 citizens (The Woodlands, TX) and maybe about 800 agents in about 13 offices. You absolutely run into and interact with the same people over time…at least the working ones. If you’ve been in the market for a while, you could actually go down a list and characterize each agent:

    Here’s a few common tarnished traits:
    Ego-manical, treats people like crap
    Never returns calls or email – appears to work undercover
    Plays dumb, acts lazy and expects co-op to do all the work
    Bends all rules, dances with the devil, will say anything and do nothing – think real estate sociopath.
    Emotional train wreck – passive/aggressive – excuse making machine.

    Here’s the shiny side, where the pros live:
    Prompt, responsible, firm-fair-cordial, doesn’t personalize, demoralize or self-grandise, timely, candid, honest, accessible…..

    Your post is an important reminder – it pays to consciously brand yourself, with Citizens and your professional peers.

    Thanks.

  4. Benn Rosales

    August 3, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Agents that live in glass houses…

  5. Eric Blackwell

    August 3, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    In our market, this is EXACTLY how it works…being a “good agent to work with” makes SOLID business sense. Reputation matters…bigtime.

    Best;

    Eric

  6. Jennifer in Louisville

    August 3, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    Great points across the board. For good or bad, your reputation does follow you. Most persons that have been in the business for a bit, can definitely go through and name who is pleasant/reasonable to deal with – and who is not.

    A lot of times, agents can assume that if you aren’t disliked by the other agents – then you aren’t doing your best to get the most for your clients.

    I don’t subscribe to that philosophy. You can be firm, diligent, and courteous – and still get the most for your clients w/o being a jerk.

  7. Ush

    August 3, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    The only reputation that matters – the one that affects the bottom line,

    is……… what your current/past/future clients/customers think of you

  8. Derek Overbey

    August 3, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    This is a great post Ginger. In my past life on the brokerage side, I was always hearing from people who would give me the skinny on questionable agents within our own company. It is amazing how fast you can become blackballed in this industry and even within the same brokerage. Make an unethical decision to make a quick buck and I guarantee it will come back to bite you.

    On the other side of the fence, the agents that had stellar reputations were talked about almost as much because agents knew they would be working with someone who was proud of that reputation and not doing anything to jeopardize it.

  9. Mack in Atlanta

    August 3, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    There are agents in my office that I will bend over backwards to coop with because they are good reputable people. On the other hand, there is that agent or two who don’t know the truth. Instead of painting a rosy picture they can’t even provide the correct number of bedrooms in a home. The other agents that amaze me are the ones who never have the time or common decency to return a phone call or an email regarding feed back.

    BTW, Great post Ginger!

  10. Jim Duncan

    August 3, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    @Ush – I have to disagree with this – your reputation with other agents and professionals can directly impact the bottom line.

    – In multiple offer situations, the buyer agent’s reputation absolutely affects the sellers’ consideration of the offers.
    – Politically, an agent’s reputation matters (RPAC, etc)
    – When soliciting feedback, good agents’ reputations and opinions matter more. Personally I am more likely to respond to good agents than I am not-so-good.
    – Heck, with contractors in this market … if I need work done on one of listings, or an estimate for a buyer, I need to have a good reputation with them so that they’ll answer the phone.

    Buyers and sellers matter, but so do the fellow professionals (I don’t care so much about the not-professional “professionals”).

  11. Mariana

    August 3, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Interesting. We were at a listing appointment a few months ago. The seller said that they decided to list with Agent X because he would list it for about $20k more than we said it was worth. Despite the attempt to educate them on the difference between list price and sell price, they chose the other agent and listed it WAY above market. Sadly, I KNEW when they mentioned Agent X’s name, I KNEW the listing was “bought” ….

    Even more sad is that when I had the opportunity to talk with Agent X on a different occasion, I asked why they chose to list that property at such a high price… His response was an off-handed, “[sigh] It’s JUST another listing.” (Oh, the life of a turn and burn agent)

    Sad.

    Unfortunately, the reputation preceded them and that response was not unexpected.

  12. Bill Lublin

    August 3, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    Ush – I would suggest that you might want to widen your thought process – How about your reputation if you decide to opne a company? Hire an agent? Have a broker hire you? Your reputation would impact all of those decisions.

    Shakespeare said it best hundreds of years ago when he said

    “Who steals my purse steals trash; ’t is something, nothing;
    ’T was mine, ’t is his, and has been slave to thousands;
    But he that filches from me my good name
    Robs me of that which not enriches him
    And makes me poor indeed.

    I was once told by someone “I know people who really like you , and people who really hate you, but they all agree on one thing, you’re always very clear on your position and they can count on that” Still not sure if that was a compliment or a swipe, but either way, I can live with that reputation.

  13. Matt Wilkins

    August 3, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    My market is has shifted dramatically as we have become one of the top REO markets in the country. Dealing with REO listings agent both in doing BPOs and working with clients I can definately tell which ones are trying to make a career out of it and which ones are getting into the arena just becuase they have are trying to sruvive until the market picks up.

    I agree that we all have a reputation. However, my market area is fairly fragmented with less than average amount of agent interactions and personally I am not a social buterly when it comes to mingling with agents in my local market (younger and more tech-saavy than just about every agent in the area). Not many agents have a real griphold on the market here which makes working iwth the same agents much less frequent and knowing real reputations that much less likely than normal.

  14. Jay Thompson

    August 3, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    ““I know people who really like you , and people who really hate you, but they all agree on one thing, you’re always very clear on your position and they can count on that” Still not sure if that was a compliment or a swipe…”

    Sounds like a compliment to me Bill.

  15. Seth Parker

    August 3, 2008 at 11:19 pm

    I work in the Huntsville, AL market. We’ve got about 3,000 licensed members, serving over 500,000 people in the metro area. Of those 3,000 less than 1/2 are full timers. I constantly run into the same people….over and over and over. There is definitely the select group of “I’ve been doing this for 195 years, it’s going to be my way or my seller/buyer will work another deal.” Then, of course, there’s the “know-it-all” that has memorized every page of every book, but wouldn’t know how to “sell” real estate if it slapped them in the face. Then, there actually are great people to work with. Very knowledgeable, humble, and will do everything they can to help. Granted, they are of the smallest percentage.

    But, the post is spot on. I can think of many different agents and know exactly how the transaction will play out well beforehand.

  16. Deborah Madey

    August 4, 2008 at 1:32 am

    When a property is a great match for my buyer, I will show it regardless of the reputation of the listing agent. Most of us have been in that “grin and bear it” situation. Te reputation(s) of a few agents precede them, be that a great or a poor reputation. Ironically, a few agents with a high volume of listings have questionable reputations. This is not to imply that all high listers have poor reputations. There are hundreds upon hundreds of agents who do only one transaction per year in our market, so it is quite easy to show a property listing of an agent you’ve never heard of before in this market. Then, you hope they have previous experience or a good mentor or broker behind them.

  17. Mike Taylor

    August 4, 2008 at 6:03 am

    I couldn’t agree more. While I think it is a little different in bigger markets, there are still a handful of active agents you keeping bumping into on deals. I believe that having a good reputation can actually help you close more deals. Other agents who know of you and your good reputation are more likely to you and your buyer or sellers more seriously. A real estate agent with a good reputation can benefit not only themselves but their clients as well.

  18. Ginger Wilcox

    August 4, 2008 at 7:08 am

    jd- Your market is different in a lot of ways, but I do wonder if you will start to see that to change. I have worked in your market and knew a lot of the agents over time.

    Dan- Ah, the contract shopper. Yes, another fun one. I understand where you are coming from, it is tough to hold our tongues sometimes!

    Ken- you have seen them all. Hope all your transactions this year come from the shiny side!

    Benn- yep, you are right. Agents shouldn’t make judgments, shouldn’t make judgments, but the reality is that they do. Unfortunately, there are times when incorrect or unduly harsh judgments are made but that is another post. I like this quote too, not sure who said. “Nobody raises his reputation by lowering others”

    Eric- It does matter..

    Jennifer- By all means, our job is to do the best job for our clients, first and foremost. The decisions may not always be liked by other agents, but hopefully they will be respected.

    Ush- the first reputation/ viewpoint that matters is absolutely how our past customers and clients see us. BUT, what often gets agents in trouble with other agents is also happening with their clients- bad advice, lack of communication, etc.

    Derek- you can get blackballed fast- I think that is a whole other post that I haven’t figured out how to write. What if you do get blackballed? How do you overcome it? I don’t think it is easy, thus the reason caution is so important in the first place.

    Mack- You hit the nail on the head. When someone has a good rep, people go out of the way to work with him. Sure makes the transaction easier!

    Jim- spot on.

    Mariana- that is exactly what I am talking about. The agent gets that rep because of how they treat their clients. It is sad- if only we could prevent it. Sometimes, we just can’t get them to listen.

    Bill- I would say that is a compliment. Again, we don’t always have to be liked and loved. To me, reputation isn’t about being pollyanna, it is about how you handle situations. Being clear on your position is a great thing- stand for what you believe in. Can’t imagine any haters Bill!

    Matt-some markets this definitely doesn’t apply. Being younger and tech-savvy is a GREAT reputation to have. I don’t think having a good rep has to do with socializing with other agents per say, to mean it is more about getting the job done. How do you handle your business, how quick are you with follow up with clients, that is the stuff that matters and tech savvy agents often have mastered that (using technology to serve our clients better!)

    Jay- yep!

    Seth- I guess the benefit of that knowledge we have in advance is exactly that- knowledge about how the other agents work. The challenge can be to find a way to use that knowledge to make the best of the transaction and get it closed.

    Deborah- You ABSOLUTELY should show all properties that fit your buyers needs, regardless of the rep. Grin and bear it, is a great way to describe it, but in a market with a heavy inventory of listings, I guarantee some agents get fewer showings.

    Mike- if you know the other agent is dependable and trustworthy, you are more likely to close the deal. Pure and simple- you want to know you can believe what they say! It benefits everyone.

  19. Jennifer in Louisville

    August 4, 2008 at 9:13 am

    I couldn’t agree more. While I think it is a little different in bigger markets, there are still a handful of active agents you keeping bumping into on deals. I believe that having a good reputation can actually help you close more deals. Other agents who know of you and your good reputation are more likely to you and your buyer or sellers more seriously. A real estate agent with a good reputation can benefit not only themselves but their clients as well.

    Exactly, Mike! The real estate agents that take such an adversarial position when representing their clients, are far less likely to get their own listings shown in the first place – because other agents don’t want do have to deal with the hassle/hostility.

  20. Vance Shutes

    August 4, 2008 at 10:50 am

    Ginger,

    This line says it all: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently…Warren Buffett” By adopting such an attitude 14 years ago upon my entry into this business, I’ve been well served. My first broker taught me well, too. His teaching? “Clients come, and clients go, and hopefully most of them become great friends. But you work with other agents every single day, so treat them as well as your very best customer” When my first broker passed away earlier this year, his teaching still remains. As I recall from his memorial service, “There’s a little Oscar in each of us” (not the Sesame Street character, but my broker’s first name). I thank him every day for that teaching, which I pass along to every new agent without hesitation.

  21. Kelley Koehler

    August 4, 2008 at 10:52 am

    You can be courteous and firm, clear and honest, deal in a very upfront and professional manner – and still get smeared. Proper conduct doesn’t always insure a good reputation.

  22. Benn Rosales

    August 4, 2008 at 10:59 am

    “Benn- yep, you are right. Agents shouldn’t make judgments, shouldn’t make judgments, but the reality is that they do. Unfortunately, there are times when incorrect or unduly harsh judgments are made but that is another post. I like this quote too, not sure who said. “Nobody raises his reputation by lowering others””

    This is why when someone badmouths someone in my market, I take the professional route in the conversation. Insecure people tend to take the lower road and dive into speculation, stereotyping, and gossip.

    But here is how I combat it, if I hear someone in the professional circle badmouthing another agent, guess which agent I actually avoid in the future? Because so far, the only agent I’ve seen behaving in an unprofessional way is the one doing the badmouthing.

  23. Bob

    August 4, 2008 at 11:09 am

    When I hear dirt about other agents, I give them the benefit of the doubt. Without first hand knowledge, it means little to me. That doesn’t mean I forget what people say, though.

  24. Ginger Wilcox

    August 4, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Kelley- i agree, proper conduct doesn’t insure a good rep- but it is definitely a good start.

    Benn- that strategy will give you a good rep. 😮 )

  25. Ginger Wilcox

    August 4, 2008 at 11:14 am

    Hearsay is one thing, first hand knowledge is another.

  26. Bob

    August 4, 2008 at 11:22 am

    It’s all hearsay to me unless its my firsthand knowledge, with the exception of MLS data that could show a trend or habit of overpricing pricing.

  27. Ginger Wilcox

    August 4, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Bob-I think we are saying the exact same thing.

  28. Bob

    August 4, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    Got it. My bad.

  29. Benn Rosales

    August 4, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Venus/Mars? heh

  30. Glenn fm Naples

    August 4, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    Think we all have agents that we would prefer not to work with, due a multiple set of reasons as well as those agents that we love to work with.

    I will always give an agent the benefit of doubt when it is the first time I am working with them.

  31. Bob

    August 4, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    @Benn – the downside to non verbal communication.

  32. Kay Baker Wilmington NC Real Estate

    August 5, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Yes, I totally agree. I have been in the business a long time in Wilmington NC and your reputation is the most important asset you can have in this business. Guard it with your life!

  33. Jennifer Rathbun

    August 12, 2008 at 8:47 am

    I have learned my lesson about taking overpriced listings. It only took 2 months.

    So I have 1 listing left in this deligtful market. It expires in September. Part of me wants to say, “if you don’t come down on your price, I’m not renewing my agent agreement. Take it off the market for a while or find someone else.”

    1 listing does not make much of a differnece. But it does get my name out there. And I’d rather be known as more of a listing agent than a buyer’s agent – not that I won’t work with both.
    But how will I show what I will do for your listing if I do not have any listings? I have it listed in 23 different places with tours, maps, flyers, etc…

    It hurts my pride eventhough I have been telling them for over 6 months that they need to lower the price.

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Opinion Editorials

BIPOC Gen Zers are using TikTok to create cultural awareness

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) TikTok has become a platform for younger generations to share their cultures, paving the way for a more inclusive society. And they’re doing it one 15 second video at a time.

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Black person's hands holding a phone loading TikTok above a wooden table.

When scrolling on TikTok, you might come across this question posed by a BIPOC creator (Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color): “How old were you when you realized you weren’t ugly, you just lived in a predominantly White space?”

Growing up in predominantly White spaces myself with immigrant parents from the Middle East, I had a warped perspective of beauty. Straight light hair, fair skin, Western features, a stick-thin figure – I internalized my physical otherness as lack.

It wasn’t until I moved to a diverse city for college that I realized this. I saw others speaking different languages, eating ethnic foods and dressing however they wanted without fear of losing their proximity to Whiteness. Exposure to others who didn’t fit “the mold” was transformative for me.

As someone in their mid-twenties, I came of age with social media like Tumblr, Facebook and, ultimately, Instagram. But I’d be lying to you if I said that I didn’t wish TikTok was around when I was a kid.

For reference, most TikTok users are between 16-24, meaning that many are still in high school. While content on TikTok is really all over the place and specifically catered to your preferences (you can feel the algorithums at work as your scroll), one facet that I find integral to the app’s essence is Gen Z proudly showcasing their cultures – aka #culturecheck.

Besides the countless ethnic food tutorials (some of my favorite content on the app!), fashion has become a main way for BIPOC or immigrant TikTokers to fully express their identities and share their culture with other users on the app, regardless of physical location.

Take the #FashionEdit challenge, where creators lip sync to a mash-up of Amine’s “Caroline” and “I Just Did a Bad Thing” by Bill Wurtz as they transform from their everyday Western clothes into that of their respective culture.

In her famous video, Milan Mathew – the creator attributed to popularizing this trend – sits down in a chair. She edits the clip in such a way that as she sits, her original outfit switches to a baby-pink lehenga and she becomes adorned with traditional Indian jewelry. Denise Osei does the same, switching into tradition Ghanaian dress. If you can think of a culture or ethnicity, chances are they are represented in this TikTok trend.

This past Indigenous People’s Day, James Jones’ videos went viral across various social media platforms, as he transformed into his traditional garments and performed tribal dances.

Though the cultures and respective attire they showcase are unique in each video, the energy is all the same: proud and beautiful. Showing off what your culture wears has become a way to gain clout on the app and inspire others to do the same.

The beautiful thing about cultural/ethnic TikTok is that it isn’t just Mexicans cheering for other Mexicans, or Arabs cheering for other Arabs – the app sustains a general solidarity across racial and ethnic lines while cultivating an appreciation of world cultures.

But just how deep does that appreciation go? Some users think (and I agree) that “liking” a video of an attractive creator in traditional dress is hardly a radical move in dismantling notions of Western beauty.

While TikTok trends might not solve these issues entirely, it’s important to note that they are moving things in the right directions – I certainly never saw anything like this when I was growing up.

For whatever reason, Millennials, Gen X and Boomers seem to have a lot of shade to throw at Gen Z. But one thing is for certain – this young generation is paving the way for a more inclusive, more respectful society, which is something we should all get behind. And they’re doing it one 15 second video at a time.

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Opinion Editorials

This website is like Pinterest for WFH desk setups

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) If you’ve been working from home at the same, unchanged desk setup, it may be time for an upgrade. My Desk Tour has the inspiration you need.

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Man browsing desk setups on My Desk Tour

Whether you’re sitting, standing, or reclining your way through the pandemic, you’re most likely doing it from home these days. You’re also probably contending with an uninspired desk configuration hastily cobbled together in March, which—while understandable—might be bringing you down. Fortunately, there’s an easy, personable solution to spark your creativity: My Desk Tour.

My Desk Tour is a small website started by Jonathan Cai. On this site, you will find pictures of unique and highly customized desk setups; these desk configurations range from being optimized for gamers to coders to audiophiles, so there’s arguably something for everyone—even if you’re just swinging by to drool for a bit.

Cai also implements a feature in which site users can tag products seen in desk photos with direct links to Amazon so you don’t have to poke around the Internet for an hour in search of an obscure mouse pad. This is something Cai initially encountered on Reddit and, after receiving guidance from various subreddits on the issue of which mouse to purchase, he found the inspiration to create My Desk Tour.

The service itself is pretty light—the landing page consists of a few desk setup photos and a rotating carousel of featured configurations—but it has great potential to grow into a desk-focused social experience of sorts.

It’s also a great place to drop in on if you’re missing the extra level of adoration for your desk space that a truly great setup invokes. Since most people who have been working from home since the spring didn’t receive a ton of advance notice, it’s reasonable to assume that the majority of folks have resigned themselves to a boring or inefficient desk configuration. With a bit of inspiration from My Desk Tour, that can change overnight.

Of course, some of the desk options featured on the site are a bit over the top. One configuration boasts dual ultra-wide monitors stacked atop each other, and another shows off a monitor flanked by additional vertical monitors—presumably for the sake of coding. If you’re scrambling to stay employed, such a setup might be egregious.

If you’re just looking for a new way to orient your workspace for the next few months, though, My Desk Tour is worth a visit.

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Opinion Editorials

Popular opinion: Unemployment in a pandemic sucks [EDITORIAL]

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) I got laid off during the pandemic, and I think I can speak for all of us to say that unemployment – especially now – really, really sucks.

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Stressed man thinking over laptop about unemployment.

Despite not being in an office for what feels like an eternity, losing my job stung. Holding onto work during The Worst Timeline was rough, considering Rome was burning all around. My job was the boat of sanity I could sit in while the waves of bullshit crashed all around. Pre-pandemic, I had just separated from my wife, so my emotional health wasn’t in tip-top shape. But then millions of people go and get sick, the economy took a nosedive, and well, the world changed. When everything around you sucks, and people are on the news crying about unemployment and potential homelessness, you’re thankful as hell that you’re not with them – until you are.

I was writing for a startup, one that came with a litany of headaches thanks to fluctuating budgets and constant directional pivots, but it was steady work. When the Coronavirus hit, it was a scenario of “we’re going to get through this,” but as we switched gears again and again, I started to get an unsettling feeling: I’ve seen this story before. When you live in Austin and are in the creative field, you’ve worked with startups. And there are always trappings on when something lingers in the air – hierarchy shuffles, people aren’t as optimistic, and senior folks start quietly bailing out. Those are the obvious moves that make your unemployment-related Spidey sense tingle, but with COVID, everything is remote. There aren’t the office vibes, the shortened conversations that make you, “I know what’s happening here.” Instead, you’re checking Slack or email and surviving like everyone else.

We were happy to be working, to see the direct deposit hit every two weeks and sigh, knowing you were still in the fight, that you might see this thing through.

We saw our entire business change overnight. Leadership rose to meet the challenges of an old model rooted in hospitality, restaurants, and events, which died with a viral disease shotgun blast. Because the infrastructure was there, we managed to help out workers, and grocery stores work together to keep people fed across the nation. It was legitimately a point of pride. Like all things, though, the market settled. We bought time.

In July, I had a full-blown depressive episode. The weight of the divorce, the lack of human interaction, my work having less value, my career stalled felt like a Terminator robot foot on my skull. I couldn’t get out of bed, and everything I wrote were the smatterings of a broken man. And to my ex-bosses’ credit, my breakdown was NOT my best work, I could barely look at a computer, let alone forge thoughts on an entirely new industry with any authority, or even a fake it till you make it scenario.

When the CEO put time on my calendar, I knew it was a wrap. Startup CEOs don’t make house calls; they swing the ax. When you’re the lone creative in a company trying to survive a nearly company-killing event, you’re the head on the block. Creatives are expensive, and we’re expendable. Site copy, content, media placements, all that can kick rocks when developers need to keep the business moving, even if it’s at a glacial pace. When I was given my walking papers, it was an exhale, on one hand, I’d been professionally empty, but at the same time, I needed consistent money. My personal life was a minefield and I’ve got kids.

I got severance. Unemployment took forever to hit. The state of Texas authorized amount makes me cringe. Punishing Americans for losing their jobs during a crisis is appalling. Millions are without safety nets, and it’s totally ok with elected leaders.

There are deferments available. I had to get them on my credit cards, which I jacked up thanks to spending $8,500 on an amicable divorce, along with a new MacBook Pro that was the price of a used Nissan. I got a deferment on my car note, too.

I’ve applied to over 100 jobs, both remote and local. I’ve applied for jobs I’m overqualified for in hopes they’ll hire me as a freelancer. There are lots of rejection letters. I get to round two interviews. References or the round three interviews haven’t happened yet. I get told I’m too experienced or too expensive. Sometimes, recruiters won’t even show up. And then there are the Zoom meetings. Can we all agree we’re over Zoom? Sometimes, you don’t want to comb your hair.

I’ll get promised the much needed “next steps” and then a rejection email, “thanks but no thanks.” Could you at least tell me what the X-Factor for this decision was? Was there a typo? Did you check my Facebook? The ambiguity kills me. Being a broke senior creative person kills me. I interviewed President Obama and have written for Apple, but ask myself: Can I afford that falafel wrap for lunch? Do you think springing for the fries is worth that extra $3? You’ve got soup at home, you know.

I’m not unique. This is the American Experience. We’re stuck in this self-perpetuating hell. We keep looking for jobs. We want to work. There are only so many gigs to fill when there’s constant rollercoaster news on unemployment recovery. And as long as unemployment sucks, there’s going to be a lot of people bracing for impact come Christmas. Hopefully, the brass in Washington can pass a few bills and get us back to work. At least get Americans out of the breadline by pumping up what we’re surviving off of – across the board. Working people shouldn’t have to face getting sick to bring in an income, while casualties of the Corona War should be able to look at their bills and not feel like the assistant on the knife throwers wheel.

I’m about to be a line cook to make extra cash till an intrepid manager hires me. Who doesn’t want a writer working the grill who reads French existentialist essays for enjoyment? I’d rather sit on park benches and day dream, but that ain’t reality. I’ve got bills to pay in a broken America. Who wants a burger? Deep thoughts come free but an extra slice of cheese is extra.

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