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Wait, Wait, Don’t Go There

Our firm is in the process of completing a survey of 35 leading brokerages across the country. As of the 25th interview, one could not help but be concerned about the results to date.

Some thoughts by way of laying a foundation: The issue of recovery is a ticklish one in economic circles. It’s not like the military when a wounded soldier is deemed recovered when he or she can meet certain mental or physical requirements like reciting a procedure, running a mile in 5 minutes, doing 50 push-ups or 40 sit-ups. In economic circles, politics and fear keep economists from declaring a recovery until every last I is dotted and T is crossed. One might imagine that by the time an official recovery is declared, most of the opportunities inherent in any economic shift have long since disappeared.

The North American real estate industry finds itself in just such a situation. It is feeling good out there, it is in many ways looking good out there, and some statistics seem to suggest that “good” may be the word of the day for the real estate marketplace. Most importantly, the results of the survey process leave a strong impression that many brokerages believe it is good and getting better. Herein lies the rub.

The idea behind this column is not to declare the condition of the economy or the real estate market. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Strictly for purposes of this discussion, let’s declare that the industry and the market are back to good.

The issue here is about what brokers who believe that the market is “back” are planning to do about it. By way of specific example, I was shocked to discover that one of my favorite brokers in the country, a franchisee operator with a strong No. 2 market position in his state, multiple offices and a terrific 2012, is intending to sink more than $1 million into his headquarters building. Upon gentle probing about why he was taking this step, he replied, “Because I want my marketplace to know that we survived.” At least six other brokers surveyed expressed similar responses.

The recommendation for brokers who truly believe that they have reached the other side of the economic desert and are dying to celebrate is as follows:

First, sit back for a moment and catch your breath. You, your body and your mind have been working overtime for the past several years, guiding your ship through the worst storm in its history. Ignoring the fact that you may just have aged 10 years in the last six, you are not the same person you were in 2007. Take that trip you canceled five times over the past five years. Spend some time with the family that you have driven crazy or ignored during the bad times. Get back to work on that antique car that so deserves your attention. Do what you want to do, but for heaven’s sake, chill for 90 days.

Secondly, give the following some thought and dare to write down your answers. As all of us perpetual dieters can tell you, refusing to create a record is the classic sign of denial.

  • As a person, how are you different from the way you were in 2007?
  • As a broker, how are you different from the way you were in 2007?
  • List the five worst moments of your business life since 2007.
  • List the five best moments of your business since 2007 (don’t worry if you can’t remember five).
  • Draw up a list of those individuals who have performed to your expectations during the past six years.
  • Draw up a list of those who failed or abandoned you during the past seven years. (Don’t dwell on their excuses, everyone who abandons has an excuse, some more compelling than others, but still just an excuse.)
  • Finally, list out the five most important lessons you have learned over the past six years.

Work with your answers. If you think that the past six years haven’t changed you as a person or a businessperson, you ought to write a book about survival in the face of remarkable adversity. Of course you are different. It is patently absurd to suggest to yourself or anyone else that the experience of going through the worst business cycle in your career hasn’t had an impact on you.

Some experts suggest that the best way to recover from bad times is to forget them. This is not to suggest that you should wallow in the bad times but surely most will agree that one should learn from them.  Remembering those moments of fear and terror will also help you recall that you also promised someone, even if it was yourself, never to be in that situation again.

Recalling the good moments helps you also recall how competent you were when it really counted. Self-esteem and self-confidence are going to be very important resources moving forward. If you and your firm survived the past six years, you are good. Believe it!

Life has just given you the luxury of the ultimate test. You have stared adversity in the eye and conquered it. One of the most important lessons of this experience will be coming to grips with who served well with you and who didn’t. There are people in your life and business who have been failing you or exploiting you for years. This is the time to create the list.

By the same token, there are those who hung in there and provided great service and inspiration. Take a moment to remember and perhaps even thank them.

The final list is the most important. Consciously or unconsciously, you cannot possibly have failed to learn something new over the past six years. If you believe you have learned nothing, then professional analysis may be in order.

Take all the time you need to complete this thought process. When you are done, turn your thoughts to your future and the future of your business. Understand that the business environment that we are now entering has very little or nothing to do with that which you experienced between 1992 and 2007. Everything is different including the opportunities and the threats. It is time to make a post- recovery plan.

If, after all of this effort, you believe that the best thing you can do is to invest in bricks and mortar, then have at it. After all, this is America, where anything is possible.

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