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Lita Smith-Mines Headshot

There's a Kind of Hush

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Ever since I established my own law practice, the words "back to school" caused my heart to race wildly and the blood to pound so loudly I barely heard myself whimpering and grousing. Why would an A-student with framed diplomas experience sweaty palms and cardiac palpitations if I so much as glimpsed an ad for backpacks or erasers? Because the majority of my real estate business for over 25 years was done after school wrapped up in June and before it resumed right after Labor Day.

Those who went to contract in March, April or even May would usually see their deals close in July, smiling as they talked of enrolling their kids with time to spare before acquiring the new school's recommended crayons or preferred calculators. Those who didn't sign contracts until June, July or -- heaven forbid -- early August, or those whose deals experienced assorted snafus, started to hyperventilate as soon as they spotted July in the rear-view mirror. My phone would ring all August with clients seeking reassurance that I would move heaven and earth to guarantee every Sasha and Santos would start school the same day as other kids on their new blocks. No mortgage commitment yet? A glitch in the title search? Part of the roof blown off by a windstorm the day before the appraisal? Parents looking towards Labor Day with laser-like focus just expected me to triumph over such trivialities.

In 2007, things changed. There were enough transactions in March and April to close in the glorious months of June and July, but so few thereafter that the heat and humidity of August was not accompanied by my customary attorney sweat and insanity. Everyone that needed to close did so easily, without wailing, flailing, railing or hissy-fits.

By 2008 there were very few contracts signed at all, let alone by those that fit the usual molds of first-time buyers with a kid ready for kindergarten or move-up purchasers with 2.7 kids. The only panic generated in my office that summer came from within my own under-utilized and insufficiently funded self, and I actually yearned for a phone call from a Dad demanding I set a closing by mid-August, or a Mom commanding me to compel her sellers to close in sufficient time for her family to settle in.

Back to school closings are non-existent in my office this year. The few active buyers I have are looking for "investment" properties without any tie-ins to the school calendar, while the lingering-on-the-market home owners have either resigned themselves to leave empty houses behind while they relocate to new districts (and rent), or else their kids will start the year in schools they hope to vacate long before next June.

While my heart and head are certainly enjoying the continuing sounds of real estate silence in August 2009, my wallet protests loudly each and every day. And based on retail sales reports, merchants in my area probably aren't moving many rulers, protractors or shiny pencil cases, or selling enough pairs of spiffy sneakers to boost their bottom lines. I'm sure all of us who used to dread the back to school madness of August would gladly trade our solitude for a bit of hysteria right about now.