Work!

We mortals have been working for a long time.

We mortals have been working for a long time.  Long before we became humans or even mammals. It is many a wise person’s belief that, right up there with food, water, clothing, shelter, and air, is work!  Earning a little coin forges pride and achievement, allows us to take care of ourselves and others, and provides much needed social contact – albeit, these days, virtually.  Suffice to say, weeks before we were permitted to, my colleagues and I were in a lather, chomping at the bit to get back to one of the essentials of real estate life – showing property. On June 22nd, Phase 2 began and with it, real estate agents in NYC were permitted to work again. 

For me, Phase 2 felt more like crossing to Staten Island on a raft than driving over the Verrazano. I had strategized and planned for weeks so that I could hit the ground running. When the time came to finally bring strangers into my client’s homes, theory collided with practice harder than Foreman ever hit Ali.  Here are just a few observations of how the sausage is made during COVID.

1.

Everyone is nice.  Really nice. One Sunday, I conducted ten separate half-hour showings of the same apartment.  Not a person complained about the mask, the shoes off, the hand sanitizer, the no touching, – the annoying inconvenience of it all. Admittedly, I was at my most charming and apologetic, but my experience with buyers since June 22nd is only positive. 

BTW, that night, at 8pm, after ten separate charming showings, I went right to bed!

2.

We are working a lot more for a lot less. The ten, half-hour showings could have been squeezed into a single one hour open house pre-COVID. As alluded to above, each showing requires said agent to be the toucher and the opener. This leads to a lot more showing, a lot more talking, a lot more joke making, etc. Yes! I know! I’m whining but I haven’t even mentioned the four, two-page disclosures that have to be reviewed and executed via DocuSign for each showing!

3.

It’s easier to spot the real buyers. In my business, we call a “real buyer,” someone who is ready to move forward immediately. This usually means that they have a knowledgeable buyer’s broker, know what they want, know their price point, have retained an attorney, are pre-approved for a mortgage or paying all cash, and know when they want to close. These attributes are the attributes of our dream buyer.  75% to 90% of the buyers I have encountered during COVID fall into this category.  In the epoch of pre-COVID, said buyer showed up only 10% to 25% of the time (fodder for another post, but if a listing is overpriced, the percentage drops to near 0%).  So yes, if you surmised that in this aspect of my work, I am working less – you are correct!

4.

Presentation is paramount.  Photos and staging have always been important, but now that consumers have more time on their hands, they are looking more closely at property photos and videos.  As a result, solely because they liked the way we present our listings online, we have had a number of clients hire us without ever meeting me in person. Thank you Melanie, Orik, and Compass Concierge, we couldn’t have done it without you.  And, of course, the Virtual Tour technology is the bomb.  Everyone asks for it!  It also substantially increases web hits and property saves.    

5.

Postscript thoughts:

  • People are more or less adapting and we may never go back to the “old way.”   
  • No one sells a property because they sent out an email blast to 10,000 agents or because they sent postcards to 1,000 homes in the neighborhood. They are a waste of time and money. There! I said it!
  • My Goodness! The NY Times Real Estate search aggregator is awful!
  • I love working from home.  

Don’t Let Him Come to You

One summer evening in 1979.

One summer evening in 1979, while cruising down Suffolk Avenue, in my hometown on Long Island, the muffler of my parents’ green Plymouth Satellite station wagon began to make an awful racket. Undeterred, I sipped from the Miller bottle between my legs, smoked the bowl that had just arrived from the backseat, and dialed up Shattered by the Rolling Stones on WBAB. After all, we were just getting started and it was my turn to drive. My three friends and I were newly graduated from high school, three of us were heading to college in the Fall, and despite having early morning summer employment, we happily did this every night.

It wasn’t long before Gary, riding in the passenger seat, noticed the flashing red lights behind us. 

<p value="<span style="font-weight:400;">“You have to pull over Jim. Look in your mirror.”“You have to pull over Jim. Look in your mirror.”

<p value="<span style="font-weight:400;">“Oh shit! Is that for me?”“Oh shit! Is that for me?”

“Fuck yeah! He’s right on your ass!”

I pulled over onto a dirt patch that separated Suffolk Avenue from a lumber yard and the patrol car stopped behind me. Shouts of “Fuck!” and “Oh shit!” came from Peter and Henry in the back.  Peter, silhouetted by the headlights of the patrol car, nervously sipped his beer. 

“What the fuck Peter!” Gary shouted. “Put that shit down!” half admonishing, half laughing. 

Gary continued. “Jim, you gotta get out of the car.” “Don’t let him come to you!”

“Really?”

“Don’t let him come to you! DO NOT LET HIM COME TO YOU! Do it now! Before he comes to us! He needs to see you fucking walk. DO NOT LET HIM COME TO YOU!”

It had to be adrenaline because I felt better than I should have heading toward the patrol car. The cop lowered his driver’s side window and said, “Wait there,” as he nudged his head towards the sandy area between our vehicles.

Squinting in his headlights, hands in my pockets, I worried that one of the cars whizzing by would recognize me. A neighbor. A teacher. My girlfriend’s mother. Any adult who thought I was a good kid and didn’t know I hadn’t been since 12 or 13, or maybe forever.

The crisp click of the cop’s car door opening snapped me back to attention and he walked the short distance to me, hands at his sides.

“Good morning officer,” I greeted.

“Good morning, huh? You want to try that again?” he asked.

“Yeah…sorry. How are you?”

“‘The question is, ‘How are you?!’”

Silence.

“I asked you a question. How are you?”

“Oh?! I’m fine.”

“Are you allowed to be driving this late?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m 18.”

(For anyone under 18 with less than a year of driving experience, the Suffolk county driving curfew was 9pm.) 

“Let me see your license.”

I reached into my back pocket, pulled out my wallet, and produced the flimsy green piece of paper issued to me four months prior. The New York State driver license had no photo but a few identifying features printed in small dot matrix characters. I handed it to the cop.

“Where do you live?,” he asked without looking up.

“77 Lexington Avenue.”

“What is your date of birth?”

“Four-twenty-two-sixty-one.”

“What happened to your car?” he handed back my license. 

“I don’t know. I guess…something going on with the muffler.”

“Why are you driving it on the street?” 

“Oh.. it.. Uh…it just happened.”

“Look! I can’t have you out with this,” gesturing towards the station wagon.  “You’re 5 minutes from home. Drive it there now. I find you driving this later, I’m going to take the car. You follow?“

“Yes sir.”

“Who is in the car with you?”

“Just my friends.”

“Anyone under age?”

“We are all 18.”

“Anyone been drinking?” 

“No.”

He paused and looked at me suspiciously. 

“Take the car home. I don’t want to see any of you out tonight.  Got it?”

“Yes.”

“Get out of here.” He nudged his neck again, got into his own car, and drove away.

Back in the station wagon, my friends were elated. 

“Fucking Jim!! Yeah baby!!! Nice work Jim!!” I grinned as they each patted me on the back and shoulders.

“He says I have to take the car home.” I said soberly.

“Fuck that!” Peter said, already lighting up a bowl. “We’re all set. Let’s party!”

“He knows…he knows that we’re all wasted.” I said.

“What did he say to you?” Gary asked.

“He didn’t really say shit. He asked me about the muffler. He asked me about you guys. ‘Has anyone been drinking?’ –”

“What did you say?” Gary was impressed.

“I said no. What the fuck do you think?” I laughed.   “But he fucking knows! We can’t run into him again or he’ll tow the car.”

The consensus was to drive 5 minutes in the opposite direction to Gary’s house. Once there we politely said hello to his mother, and carried on in his dark green Chevrolet Chevelle.

Much later, in the lull of dawn, the clattering station wagon and I meandered by tranquil suburban lawns and driveways.  Once home, I slept a bit, took a shower, and waited for my ride to work.

That night was exhilarating. I had exhibited bravery. Faced down a cop. Held my liquor. Significant achievements on the road to becoming a man. These Long Island values stayed with me until my late 20s when I began to understand just how risky and lethal a person I was. The notion of bravery nevertheless persisted until my early 50s when I began to understand how the color of my skin may have had more to do with that night’s outcome than any other quality I might have possessed.

The education of that young man continues.

The Not So Distant Future of Real Estate

You walk down the middle of your tree-lined street peering at oversized doorbells in the shape of familiar icons: Compass, Corcoran, Douglass Elliman, StreetEasy, and Google. You know the way home but it’s more fun to pretend that you don’t and instead search for the big Amazon Prime Open House (AmPro) sign. Today they have something special going on at your place  (a 1600 square foot, 3 bed, 2 bath, garden duplex with laundry and storage – by the way!). You’re 50 feet away when you notice your home’s front bay windows pulsating shadows of emerald, crimson, and violet.  As you ascend your well known brownstone stoop, you pass petunias and impatiens you never planted. Interesting. You don’t hear the song Truth Hurts until your foot touches the top step.  You love this and for the next 10 seconds you tap your shoe against the gritty milk chocolate colored stucco. The music plays on and then off, on and off…  Eventually you walk through the beautifully refinished 19th century mahogany double front doors that your condo was too cheap too restore and glance right into your parlor floor living room. A jam-packed crowd jumps in time to the music with a black lingerie-wearing, Lizzo leading them through a routine of hand-gestures you’re not hip enough to recognize.  She gives you a confident wink but you’re distracted by an eager banana bouncing between the ceiling and the delicate coffee table you just purchased from Trailer Park

In your kitchen, people dressed as animals, super-heros, movie stars and politicians meander about. They inspect pantries, run appliances, open windows, shut doors, and turn off lights. Someone disguised as Andrew Cuomo is taking a bath in your stainless steel double sink. You activate the inverted caret tattooed to his neck and discover that it’s your neighbor Bill. You also discover his income and credit rating. Bill really needs to learn to manage his privacy settings. 

You avoid the kids’ rooms and the bathroom (you’ve always hated them) and head out back to your deck where a second Lizzo, flanked by the Big Girrrls, videos herself with the new aPhone 4K©. 15 foot high Echo speakers partition your garden on three sides as a gala of old Hollywood dances on a bed of poppies you never planted under a cobalt blue sky full of gold Amazon customer review stars.

Even though it’s your home, and “your party,” it’s not your scene. No one notices as you elevate past the second, third, and fourth floors of the old red brick backside of your townhouse. Soon you’re high above the roof with Prospect Park to your right and the Statue of Liberty to your left.  You zoom over picturesque Park Slope row houses and past the Empire State Building in no time flat.  Below are the familiar icons – Compass, Corcoran, Douglass Elliman, StreetEasy, and Google – flashing open house signs like carnival freak show yelpers.  One out of every 5 is a Lizzo GIF dancing the Renegade on top of an orange Amazon smiling arrow.

But your focus is north. You reach the star you bookmarked two weeks ago and hover for 10 minutes. From your perch you see no one enter or leave the Westchester dream home you put an offer on yesterday.

Eventually you sign into the open house. There’s no music. No Lizzo. No crowd. No furniture. No broker. And no buyers.  You pray this means the sellers will accept your bid.

Later, back home, Lizzo gives you a thumbs up as things wind down. The banana is the last person to leave and you give Alexa the command to close down the open house. You settle into your favorite easy chair and raise a glass of rosé from the coffee table you just purchased at Trailer Park

“On Edge”

Three weeks ago, my son Nate, said he was “sick of hearing about the coronavirus.”

“It’s alright Nate, everyone’s a little on edge about it,” I tried.

“I’m not on edge!! I’m just sick of it! That’s all you ever hear about. Everyone’s talking about it. Why can’t we talk about something else? Coronavirus! Coronavirus! Coronavirus! I’m sick of hearing about it!” And he continued for a while longer.

He was right of course. It is all everyone is talking about. And the subtext was that he was “on edge.” I was surprised at first because my wife and I believed we were doing our best. To remain calm around the household, engage in other topics and activities, games, reading, extra Fortnite (I know, I know).

Unfortunately, we also had NPR on 24/7 and were speaking “coronavirus” to each other a lot.

In my own little cocoon, the one I kept hidden from my family and myself, I was also “on edge,” and feeding the monster. Refreshing the Dow, the NY Times, and Google news 20 to 30 times a day while waiting for the hourly “All Things Considered” update. Going to sleep with my iPad streaming cable news (while I checked Dow futures, the NY Times, and Facebook one last time).

I was quietly staggering between anxiety and despondency. Getting very little work done. And most likely adding to Nate’s feelings about the crazy world being thrust upon the poor kid.

Nate’s outburst was a wake up call.

As I write this, I feel much better. If you’ll indulge me, I’d love to share the behavioral changes that have been a tremendous help to my sanity.

  • Get away! Away from social media, news, and your phone. I began feeling better immediately. I now limit myself to 20 minutes a day, 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the afternoon at predetermined times. Of course, I allow myself to play music on my phone more now than I did at 16! Here’s a great article written by someone much smarter than me.
  • Get out. My wife and I take a walk twice a day (usually with our dog). We say hello to neighbors, strangers, thank mail carriers, and garbage collectors (from six feet away of course). I feel better and I suspect (hope) I’m making them feel better. (Coronavirus myth: You cannot contract COVID-19 by making eye contact).
  • Get funny. I don’t have the writing chops to relate how fortunate I am to lodge with the funny lady I married. We perpetually quip and tease. We float straight lines to each other so we can laugh at the resultant home run swings and misses. Laughter is the best medicine. Research suggests that it helps reduce pain, blood pressure, and stress. (Please use only as prescribed. May cause loss of breathing, herniated disks, choking, litigation, testicular inversion, or divorce)
  • Get recharged. Some of us need alone time. Even 15 minutes a day. A new hobby, a book, a meditation, or a nap (empirically tested), all fall into this category. If you have a quiet space in your home-school-office-playground-gym (even a closet:-), it’s time to use it.
  • Get really nice manners. People are on edge. Just assume any tension, conflicts, or Mets/Yankees arguments have nothing to do with you and be extra polite. This will help others (i.e. your loved ones) relax. (Even Yankee fans deserve dignity).

Please share your own sanity tips. I could always use more 🙂

I would love to hear how you are. Call anytime, send me an email, tag me in a post on Facebook or Instagram, or better yet, let’s hop on a Zoom call and have lunch together!

A lot of changes will be around for the foreseeable future, but we will bump elbows again one day soon.

Thoughts On Time

I remember a warm summer night in my long ago neighborhood on Long Island. My younger brother and I asked to go swimming after dinner but my mother had us wait half an hour to avoid getting cramps (a common myth in the 60s). Not knowing how to tell time, I asked how long a half hour was. My mother replied, “about as long as ‘I Love Lucy.’” “That long!,” I squealed in disbelief.

The younger you are, the slower time seems to pass. Sadly, the opposite is also true. This is an illusion, of course, but it feels real. Below are two theories about the phenomena of age, experience, and time. The first is simple arithmetic.

Consider that proportionally speaking, your current moment is always smaller than all of your previous moments. For example a day for a four year old is 1 / 1,460 of their life. In contrast, for a 60 year old (practically yours truly), a day is 1 / 21,915.

This may explain why Woodstock in 1969 felt like ancient history when I was 18 in 1979, but the election of our first African American President 11 years ago still feels newish.

Another theory posits that as we grow older our lives become routine, we ignore the present and use our brains for something else (#phone!). Since children experience more novelty than us, they pay more attention and this slows down their perception of time. I experienced this yesterday while traveling to my son’s basketball game. The first time I took the half-mile walk from the F-train, it felt like I was walking forever. Yesterday, I couldn’t believe how quickly I got to the courts (or how many emails I could answer in such a short distance).

Here are some other “facts” about time:

Though I fancy myself to be a young looking 58 (don’t we all), I have, on numerous occasions, while dropping my children off at school been mistaken for their grandfather.

I was born in 1961, only 16 years after the fall of Nazi Germany. 9/11 was 18 years ago.

I knew my great grandfather, George (Pop) Stratten, he lived to 92 and was born in 1878.

His daughter, my Grandmother, Emma Winters, lived with us. She remembers people jokingly referencing the Brooklyn Bridge whenever a task took an inordinate amount of time to complete.

Years ago, while crossing a street, I was hit by a delivery truck. I remember the entire experience in slow motion.

I would love to hear your own thoughts about time.

Send me an email (jim.winters@compass.com) or tag me in a post on Facebook (@Jim.Winters.Team.Compass) or Instagram (@jim_winters_team_compass).

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

NOVEMBER MUSING – Respect.

A few months ago my eleven year old son asked me if I knew that he now cursed at school with his friends? I did. Was I OK with it? I wasn’t. Was I going to do anything about it? I said we could talk about it. And for the next 15 minutes we calmly listened to each other’s perspective. Mine being that there were appropriate moments and inappropriate moments to curse and that I hoped in time he would learn the difference. His being that it was fun to do it while playing basketball and that rappers seem to do it best.

My nine year old daughter asks me for advice about a girl who wants to kiss her and whose affection she does not want to return.

Parenthood to me has always felt like a blur, but for the past few months I’ve noticed that my son and daughter not only get along, but seem to genuinely like each other. They generally go to sleep, brush their teeth, and do their homework (and let me help) with very little fussing. To top it all off, they are both still exceedingly cute and little (no one yet has exceeded 70 lbs.). I still get lots of hugs, kisses, and they both still want to play with me.

This new and brilliant normal has given me time to reflect on how my wife and I got here. There is a lot we have done right so far and a lot of funny stories about the mistakes we have made. One thing we’ve consistently done is treat each other and our kids with respect, and expect the same from them. This has taken extra time and patience. Required more than the occasional apology on my part. And, because we allowed the kids to always state their case, fostered a total elevation of my debating game.

I don’t mean to suggest that things were so bad before. They weren’t. They were just the old normal of the life I’ve chosen that required me to work a hell of a lot harder at being a parent.

I’ve been told (read: warned) by other parents that it won’t last. That adolescence is right around the corner and that, “they change.” All I can say is that I plan on doing everything I can to keep the mutual respect train running on time.

Luck (Fortune)

OCTOBER MUSING – Luck (Fortune).

Yesterday I wore my favorite blue suede shoes (yes, I have more than one pair!). They’re my favorite because they’re lucky! At least, that is what I tell myself.

My childhood was full of pessimism and as I adjusted to adulthood (my wife maintains that I’m still adjusting), I dealt with that pessimism by challenging everyone and everything that suggested how “unlucky” I was. Exhausting!

A few years ago, however, I took a different tack and began proffering evidence as to why I’m lucky or probably better said, fortunate. I would practice this daily and typically in the morning. Wow! What a difference! I am now, lucky. Is my life perfect? Ha! Far from it. But I could go on and on about my good fortune: I love my wife, my children, being a father, where I live, where I work, my dog, my friends, my shoes, etc. Where did all this fortune come from?

A long time ago Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” It turns out that there is a ton of scientific evidence to back this up. Don’t believe me? Well read this article, by Richard Wiseman, which posits that lucky people create their own good fortune because they are, “skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition, create self-fulfilling prophecies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.“

Back to yesterday: while I was reading at Grand Central Station, waiting for the 4/5 train, a man, pulling a hand truck, ran over my blue suede shoes. It was a hit and run to boot, but I barely noticed because when I looked up, a green-haired woman about my age caught my eye. She was shaking her head at the hand truck man. Not so much in disgust as in, “Can you believe it?” We made eye contact and then burst out laughing. When the train arrived, with a nod towards each other, we boarded different subway cars. At my stop in Crown Heights, there she was again. Shaking her head and laughing. She lives near me and we walked together chatting until we reached my block. We had nothing more to share than a little time and a good laugh, but I feel lucky to have met her.

Three Tips for Creating a More Together Block

I’m the first to admit, I’ve bragged about my particular block in Crown Heights before. We are a super friendly bunch – very cohesive, very welcoming, very green (http://bit.ly/2TyeEQE :-)! While I’m not an expert, I have three easy suggestions of things you can do right now to create community on your block:

1. Say “Good Morning!” “Good afternoon,” “Nice day,” or “Hello.” I greet everyone on my block whether I know them or not. I can trace this habit back to before I purchased my home in Crown Heights. At the time, I was walking every neighborhood in Brooklyn trying to determine which would be my future home. Part of my search criteria was whether or not people would say “Hi” back to me. My block in particular was ridiculously friendly, with people I never met before smiling and engaging way beyond what I would have expected in NYC. One day, the battery died in my 1994 Honda, and my soon-to-be neighbor across the street came out of his house unprompted and gave me a jump!

2. Shop local. Wow! Maybe it’s just me but I love walking into a store or restaurant and hearing, “Hi Jim, nice to see you again. Your usual?” Not only will you be supporting your community economy, you’re bound to meet more neighbors to greet (see no. 1) in the process.

3. Stay home. I mean, in the evening and on the weekends. Brooklyn stoops are made for sitting and if you don’t have a stoop, pull out a couple of folding chairs. Better yet, grab a broom and sweep your sidewalk and your neighbor’s while your at it 🙂

Uber vs Lyft Throw Down

Recently, while pretending to be a young, fit 30 year old, I injured my right heel playing an intense game of indoor soccer. This left me unable to walk very far so I began using Lyft to get around. It didn’t take long before I noticed how Lyft’s actual wait times always felt lengthier than the estimated wait. Was it just my impatience, or was something else at play? Eventually, I decided it was time to give Lyft’s competitor a try and initiate a Lyft vs Uber throw down. This gave me the opportunity to play at something that rarely causes an injury – simple statistics. I started using my brain and collected data to nail down how often I actually get picked up on time (this also doubled as a great distraction while waiting for my ride).

What I did: Whenever my Lyft ride was confirmed, I noted the estimated wait and set the timer on my phone. I did this for 10 rides. Then I did the same for Uber.

Here’s what I found:

– Both companies underestimated my actual wait time. Lyft by 51% and Uber by 33%.

– Of my 10 rides with Lyft, they were on schedule twice

– Of my 10 rides with Uber, they were on schedule or early 7 times.

The clear winner: Uber! Yes, my sample sizes were small and my data collection had no control for location, time of day, or distance. Also, I sheepishly admit that I only received a B- in statistics (the second time!). That being said, the contrast is stark. Uber’s wait time estimate was more accurate and more consistent. For how long, I don’t know, but I plan on collecting more data going forward – because this was fun! Anyone want to join me? 🙂

As of this writing both Uber and Lyft have not commented.

My Block

I love my block. The first person I ran across this morning was Lola. Two-year-old Lola was sitting with her mother who is pregnant with Lola’s sister. Lola always greets me with new information. This morning it was that her shoes were red and the bag of clementines she was holding had stickers.

After absorbing said information and a few other tidbits, I walked to the corner with passerby and neighbor, Michael. Michael and I encountered Lou and his dog, Pegs. A number of pleasantries later and I continued on to my local, Lula Bagel. The iced coffee was already poured when I realized I was 50 cents short. The barista, Izzie, joked, “For you Jim, coffee is $3.50 today. Besides, I know where you live.” I happen to live next door to the owner of Lula Bagel – lucky me!

Sitting on the bench in front was Zayle and her dog, Puff. I couldn’t pass without giving Puff a pet. Zayle and I chatted about nothing in particular and regarded Nostrand Avenue as it passed us by.

Eventually, I trekked the single block to the 3-train and headed to my office in Park Slope.

I didn’t mention that my block also has beautiful row houses, an extra wide street, lots of trees, and many other features that Brooklynites tout as their reason for living here. But I love my block, most of all, for the people.

The only complaint I have about my block is that with all the chatting, it takes me forever to get to work:-)