"Herman, why the hell are you in real estate?!"
I get that question a lot. Honestly, I can't blame people for asking! The market tanked. Lending is tight. Foreclosures are the new normal. You've got to work 10 times as hard to make the same pay as before. And not to be rude or anything, but it's a conservative business filled with stodgy people who take themselves way too seriously! So not my people! If it's so dismal, why have I stayed? Am I a masochist or certifiably insane? Probably a little bit of both, but the honest to goodness reason that I stay is simple: I wouldn't be allowed to work anywhere else! Let me explain.
Don't hold it against me, but yes, I hock homes. Now, if you've seen me on HGTV's House Hunters, you probably think I show three homes and then get a fat check. God, I wish it were that easy! Believe you me: It's so much more than that. I'm juggling beaucoup balls in the air, from staging, contracts, appraisals, and loans, to escrow/title settlement. I get bored easily, so a job that lets me wear different hats is a must! One second I'm advising a hot-shot CEO on pricing his gaudy McMansion, and the next I'm patiently explaining to Grandma Seller why her lovingly knitted doilies do not showcase her living room! No client, deal, or house is ever the same. Thank heavens for that! I'm too A.D.D. for the Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5 grind. What a contrast from my first "real job" out of UC Berkeley: working at Gap, Inc. headquarters, where I spent 50 hours a week tracking SKU numbers for logo T-shirts made by poor villagers in Bangladesh. Boring. (I'm yawning just typing it out!) Now, I'm not saying every agent multi-tasks fantabulously, but I do appreciate a job that requires a mix of interpersonal skills, crunching numbers, design, architecture, and most of all not being chained to a desk.
Quite honestly, though, selling homes is not even the bulk of the job. You're supposedly part tour guide and part salesperson. In reality you're part chauffeur and, more often than not, part therapist! I am privy to intimate details of my clients' lives. Sometimes I know more about them than their families do: credit scores, income, divorce secrets, who really wears the pants in the family. All this stuff comes tumbling out when people are with me. I'm a people person. When large sums of money are at stake and emotions run high, you really witness people's true colors. (And it ain't always a pretty rainbow!) For me, selling real estate is not so much about property as it is about people. An agent who loves his or her job gets a thrill from being the vortex of the transaction, balancing people's often-conflicting needs and agendas. This centrifugal swirl can unravel any second. It's up to me to hold it together. Exciting? Yes. Call me a wackadoo, but I really get a kick out of managing expectations, dealing with everyone's emotional roller coasters, and powwowing with egomaniac brokers. There is never a dull moment! (I know, it's a sickness!)
Autonomy is king (or queen, in my case). I got one taste of working for "the Man" and quickly realized that the only man I could work for was Herman. For someone with an entrepreneurial streak, a dose of ambition, and a problem with authority, being a real estate broker is ideal! Being your own boss is the only way to go. I work as much or as little as I want. I come and go as I please. I call the shots. My career path is under the control of my three favorite people: me, myself, and I. The thing I hated about corporate America is that your pay and career path are not purely based on your work but often on brown-nosing the uppers, politicking with co-workers, subjective annual reviews, and fitting yourself into their mold. As an independent contractor, my income is only limited by how creative and hardworking I am. The sky is the limit. Conversely, if my bank account is empty, then I have no one to blame but me: "Oops, my bad!" Also, as an independent contractor, I get to pick and choose whom I want to work with. When clients end up being jerks, I ditch them... or refer them to other agents (for a fee, of course!). Most jobs don't allow you to do that. Freedom is priceless.
I've listed some compelling reasons why this job excites me. But to be perfectly frank, they all pale in comparison to the real reason I love being a real estate agent: I can be myself. Let me (stop and) repeat: I can be myself! For a flat-chested, four-eyed nerd from the 'burbs with a penchant for Madonna, that wasn't always easy to do. (Social outcasts, unite!) Somehow, I grew up to be this helpfully hilarious gaysian who tells it like it is with his trademark flair and expertise. In other words, I let it all hang out. Not only has this done wonders for my ever-escalating self-esteem, but being true to myself has been the best business practice ever. I attract people who share my worldview, clients who get me and I them. It's not just a transactional relationship. A deeper social bond is formed (ergo repeat business and referrals!). Let's face it: Rick Santorum is not going to ask me to sell his house anytime soon. And that is A-OK! Maybe Lady Gaga will ask me to sell hers, because we are on the same page. All my idiosyncrasies, quirks, and parts of my identity are assets in my career. (Imagine that!)
Instead of doing well despite who I am, I'm a success because of who I am. And that, ladies and gentlemen (and everyone in between), is why the hell I am in real estate.
Follow Herman Chan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/hermanity