By Hope Harris
After 25 years in real estate, I decided to take a break. Maybe not forever, but for a while. A sort of sabbatical. Surely, I thought, there are other things to do with one’s life. Like sit on my deck.
But maybe not. After only two weeks of this “sabbatical,” I saw that 25 years of being in real estate doesn’t just drop away. Each time I got in my car, it (the car) automatically turned in the direction of my office. I had to pull over. I had a talk with myself. And my car.
“Cut this out!,” I said. “Things are different now.”
I forced the car to head toward the cleaners and driving there, hands held tight to the wheel, I knew from then on, I’d have to be vigilant.
It became apparent pretty quickly that I might need some sort of Twelve Step program after real estate. I couldn’t stop checking my voice mail, my e-mail, my I-Pad. Worst of all, I was looking up open houses, checking for new listings, looking at the interior shots of houses, thinking which house would work for whom. I had to force myself to keep from calling people; encouraging them to rush right out before their dream house was gone. I called the phone company to see if there was something wrong with my mobile because no customers were calling between ten and eleven at night.
I’d had no idea this real estate addiction was physiological. I thought the addiction only applied to buyers and sellers, or brokers who worked 24/7. I had no idea it got into your system, like a craving for chocolate.
I needed some sort of clinic for withdrawal; maybe somewhere in the Midwest where people only bought houses in which to live and raise a family. Iowa or Ohio. New Mexico was out of the question, as were Florida and California. I would need rehabilitation in a place where newspapers came without colorful real estate inserts.
The people running these rehab centers would have to be people who owned only one house. People with only one set of dishes, glassware, the furniture they lived with year-round. They’d talk to those of us who were there after real estate about lives based on continuity and stability. Our I-phones would be confiscated. They’d check our rooms at night to see that no “Homes & Cottage” magazines were hidden under our beds. They’d monitor our conversations: if they sensed we were overly agitated, our voices raised, the volume ascending, they’d intercede and change the subject from houses to the meditation session that was to begin at 10 a.m. We’d be encouraged to walk and look at trees and flowers. There would be no houses anywhere on the acreage where the clinic was situated. We’d have two meetings a day where we talked about our worst experiences: our humiliation of not being able to put down the phone or move back from the computer.
We’d learn to eat three meals a day and sit down at a table to do so. We’d be told about the evils of “food on the go”.
We’d be given financial advice; taught how to live in the future on paychecks. We’d be taught that money in steady increments, coming weekly or monthly, was still MONEY. (We’d been used to living like we were in Las Vegas. We had to get over that. Our real estate offices had been roulette tables; the phone was the roll of the dice. Sometimes the dice would land on our number, more often than not, not.) We’d have to get back in the mainstream, back to the way people lived in America: planning, saving, taking it slow and steady, establishing a routine and adjusting to a life that could — in its sameness — be boring. Boring! Day after day, the same thing. Back to living in the real world. No more adrenalin rush.
“After all,” our counselors would say at the beginning and end of each day, “Did you start out in life wanting to grow up to be a real estate broker!?” Let me think back…
The people running the clinic would take our blood pressure. After a couple of weeks we’d see the numbers plummet. We’d no doubt put on weight with time on our hands.
“Be warned” the counselors would say. “If you’re not stressed, you might find yourself eating out of boredom. Or worse, drinking (then we’d need yet another 12 step program).”
“Be warned. Be warned,” they’d say and there would be signs everywhere to remind us to keep on the straight and narrow. “Do not even think of re-upping. Stay away from resort areas. Do not drive around unattended, just ‘to drive around.’ Make new friends. People not in real estate.”
And the sign with the largest letters and most frequently encountered: “Never, Never stop at an open house sign! Never.”