Do you know what the word breathtaking means? It means to have your breath taken. Like if you get murdered, that’s a seriously breathtaking moment. Once I was installing siding on a crappy little cottage I owned and I was standing on some brackets that I had screwed into the wall of the cottage. The brackets gave way and I fell to the ground in a crumpled mess of breathlessness. My right hand landed on an old shingle with a nail sticking up and it stuck into my hand. A week later my jaw was hurting, and convinced I had tetanus I drove to the hospital where they assured me I was crazy. Two summers ago I fell through my parents’ pier because my dad had a new pier built but he insisted on making the plank sections himself. My dad is a terrible carpenter. I was walking from the boat to the shore at 11 pm after the Driehaus fireworks and in the blink of an eye I fell through the pier (the plank was too short and didn’t catch the stringer properly). My leg and chest badly bruised I popped out of the water gasping for air. I had my breath taken, you might say. You know what doesn’t take my breath away? Seeing a tiny glimpse of water through bare winter trees from the deck of the crappy house that Some Agent just listed. Words matter, even in listing descriptions.
I fancy myself an expert in lakefront real state transactions. In a very old development, so does every other agent. The new ads scream it into existence. Lake. Front. Expert. Except that it isn’t true, in fact, it’s a raging lie. I consider myself a lakefront expert because I have the transactional history to back up my claim. In the same way, I would never have the audacity to advertise myself as a Commercial. Real. Estate. Expert. I’m not one, and having sold a handful of commercial buildings in my career doesn’t mean I am. In the same way, I play tennis once or twice a week. I’m not terrible at it, and would gladly challenge any one my clients in a match. Name the time and place and I’ll be there. But do you know what I’m not? A tennis expert. I play tennis, sure. But expert? I’ll leave that title to the pros. That would be amazing if real estate agents did the same, but alas, it’s post card season at the lake and I’m betting my Christmas wish will be roundly ignored. Self awareness is the rarest of all gifts because you can’t wrap it.
Remember when I used to write about Compass when they were just a silly real estate brokerage masquerading as a tech company? Remember when I wrote things about the company thinking that I was writing about Softbank and their spawn, and I said things about how ridiculous it was to pretend that Compass was anything but a traditional brokerage with some glow in the dark real estate signs and “proprietary” back office software that is, according to many agents who have left Compass, worse than what other brokerages offer? Those were good times. Now Compass is in Lake Geneva and I’ve been scrambling to figure out if I can get some lights on my For Sale signs, lest the tech wave leave me in the dust. After hours of research I remembered that I don’t even use signs on my listings because signs are incredibly lame and useless. rEaL eStAtE tECh is something exceedingly complicated, but if you generally add one part Smoke with two parts Mirrors you just might be getting the hang of it.
Maybe fifteen years ago I was showing houses to a very nice couple who were referred to me by the pastor of a local church. The pastor had officiated my wedding and was a wholly good and wise man whom I greatly respected. The couple was young and they were sweet and I was showing them a terrible house on a highway in one of the towns not near the lake. This was before I was a lakefront expert, and I knew my role well so I stayed in my lane. My self awareness limited the titles I was willing to crown myself with in print. We had toured the terrible house and I was backing out of the driveway when I cracked the rear bumper of my silver BMW into a telephone pole that someone must have mischievously planted in the driveway while were were inside the dreadful highway home. When my bumper hit the pole I instinctively muttered an expletive, much to the horror of my innocent customers. I don’t believe I showed them anything after that day, and still think about it quite often. The good news is that telephone poles are rarely, if ever, placed in the middle of lakefront driveways, and now that I’m a lakefront expert, I leave the highway homes to the highway home experts, mostly out of respect.