soup kitchenThere cannot be any doubt that the economy is distressed, creating a level of pain for many of us that has been unseen in the past 80 years.  Unemployment has reached 8.6% and many economists believe it may reach 10% before the recovery.  And the housing industry has certainly been among the hardest hit.  Soup kitchens, a common occurrence in the Great Depression, have reemerged in almost every major American city.  It is tough out there today and will likely remain so for at least the next year.

I have been truly fortunate overall throughout my career in housing.  My wife and I were able to put our two children through college, pay off our home, and generally enjoy a comfortable lifestyle.  But times were not all good.  I have been broke twice, both times in conjunction with contractions in the housing market, and I know from personal experience that it is no fun at all.  My most recent economic challenges occurred simultaneously with my older son starting college and it was very rough for us for a couple of years. 

Fortunately, in neither of those two times were things so bad for us that we needed free food and had to rely on soup kitchens or food stamps but my family certainly did without luxuries and, on the last, occasion I regularly fielded harassing calls from creditors.  Perhaps the best thing about this current economic downturn is that the government has placed limits on contact from the abusive creditors. 

I learned some lessons from that last bad economy that I remembered later, even in the boom years of the first half of this decade.  The most important lesson – housing is and always has been a cyclical business; we must all recognize that and be prepared.  Second, keep an adequate cash (or at least liquid) reserve.  And third, and perhaps most important, keep a positive attitude, keep trying, keep working toward the goal – things will certainly get better, I personally guarantee it! 

Negativity is nothing but a waste of time and energy; it is similar to cancer in that it spreads uncontrollably. A positive attitude, however, allows you to continue to function productively at home and at work.  If you need a little assistance, tap into that cash reserve every so often and go out to a local comedy club.  Laughter really is the best medicine.

Having been in this business for several decades, through both the good and the bad times, I am sympathetic to those who are currently suffering. I feel their pain.  Sales and sales management positions have been eliminated in record numbers.  For those who still have positions, the income potential is substantially reduced.  

But I am not sympathetic to the sales people and managers who sit around complaining about the lack of traffic or sales instead of doing something productive – networking, aggressively following up with visitors and prospects, mining the existing sales for referrals, practicing sales presentations and skills, creating new closes, working the brokerage community, educating oneself, doing everything that can possibly be done to produce a positive result.  

The fact is that many of us became lazy in the good times of the first half of this decade.  Sales were relatively easy; we forgot what it is to really work.  And now that we need those skills and the proper work ethic we are out of practice or they have been forgotten.

When the market softened I decided to do something about it instead of sitting back and complaining.  I increased my networking, both physically and through the social and business opportunities on the web.  I worked diligently to increase my visibility in the marketplace.  I made cold calls to builders and developers – and I hate cold calling as much as anyone.  And I aggressively worked my existing contacts and clients for new business.

I have had two new consulting assignments recently. The first is from a referral prospect with whom I first made contact fifteen months ago.  The initial property being considered did not materialize but I stayed in constant contact, provided advice on other opportunities and one of those came to be.  The second assignment is with a prospect with whom I have stayed in contact for over twenty years.  Perhaps that is too long for some to pursue a sale but it worked for me.

Thanksgiving dinnerEven in a challenged economy such as this, there are still people looking for a new home and their reasons are not necessarily the immediate financial return that motivated buyers two or three years ago.  They may be looking to:

INCREASE – confidence, convenience, comfort, pleasure, satisfaction or space;

PROTECT – assets, family or friends or MAKE – friends, an image, a statement;

IMPROVE – earnings, education, relationships, image, lifestyle, security, or self esteem;

SAVE – energy, money, time or space or REDUCE – expenses, troubles or worry.

There are countless reasons that people wish to buy new homes and each of them is an opportunity for us to make the sale and be successful.

I believe that the housing industry offers more opportunities for personal and financial growth than any other business, even today.  When the market returns, and it is already showing signs of recovery in most local areas, those who excel will be those of us who are truly professionals – the individuals who have learned (or re-learned) and mastered the skills necessary for success. 

I am truly grateful to be in this business and believe that every day for us should be one of Thanksgiving.  We should be thankful to live in America.  We should be thankful for our health.  We should be thankful for the love of our families and friends.  And we should be thankful for the opportunity to earn a living while helping people make one of the most important and beneficial decisions of their lives. 

And on the topic of Thanksgiving which always makes me think of food, although I too am suffering some discomfort in the current economy, I still dine out every meal (and I mean every meal).  When I am out of town, which is most of the time, that is a necessity but even on those rare occasions when I am home I choose to dine out.  And hopefully, as a result of that frequency (as opposed to my living under a black cloud as did Joe Btfsplk from the comic strip Li’l Abner by Al Capp), I encounter “problems” with service, food quality and food preparation more frequently than most.  Inevitably the restaurant’s solution is to provide free food, either by removing the charge for the item(s) in question, offering free drinks and/or dessert or, more commonly, issuing gift cards for future discounted or free meals. I probably have three or four restaurant gift cards currently sitting on my kitchen table awaiting use.

gourmet dinnerNow given my choice, I would prefer to receive good food and good service every time and not be placed in a position where it is deemed necessary to compensate underperformance by giving me free food.  But I do appreciate the immediate attention to a problem and I admire a solution that often insures my repeat business.  And when I do receive the free food from a restaurant I am grateful that I have planned ahead, continued to work intelligently and aggressively, and do not need to receive that food from a soup kitchen.

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