People Have to Live Somewhere

Every single day, I commute past tent encampments for the homeless here in Seattle. When I first came out here, I found this shocking. I came from Jacksonville, Florida, and I had never seen anything quite like this. You’d think the Florida climate would be more amenable to homelessness, but no. The West Coast experiences much more of it than the East Coast does, according to most homeless counts. It disturbs me greatly that I’m getting used to the sight of these encampments. The shock is gone. The sadness remains.

I’ve got a few theories, now, as to why there’s such a difference from one coast to the other. First, of course, is that living out here is about 3 times more expensive than it is in Jacksonville. A lot more of us, here, teeter on the brink of financial ruin. Second, there are fewer places to hide such encampments. While Seattle has a much lower population than Jacksonville, it’s much more densely packed. There are not huge swaths of woods in which one can disappear. Third, I suspect we’re a good deal more tolerant out here. I know for a fact that the Jacksonville police tend to drive people out to the county line and dump them, making them continually walk the 20 or 30 odd miles back to civilization in the oppressive heat, without food or water.

That county line solution is just cruel. People have to live somewhere. Every creature on this planet does. It’s not a homeless problem. It’s a home problem. And it isn’t new.

A friend of mine shared with me this photo of Seattle’s Hooverville from the 1930’s. After reading about it on historylink.org, the amazing free online encyclopedia of Washington state history (specifically here and here), I discovered that this photo only captures about half the shantytown that existed there at the time, and there were others scattered about as well. The conditions were appalling. People built shacks out of whatever they could find. The city burned them down twice before they recognized the futility of it all. People have to live somewhere.

Incidentally, that Hooverville is not far from where Starbucks corporate headquarters now stands. Irony, anyone? And as long as REITS (Real Estate Investment Trusts) are allowed to exist, giving the richest among us the ability to make huge profits from housing, thus artificially inflating rents, this problem will only get worse.

When I get off work at 11pm, on my way home, I often see an old man with a walker standing by the stop sign at the end of my highway exit ramp. He holds a sign that says, “Homeless veteran. Please help.” The cynical side of me thinks about all the stories one hears about people making very good money through panhandling, and the stories about how some people want to be homeless. But this guy… I’ve seen him out there at midnight, in the pouring rain, in 35 degree temperatures. No financial return or lust for a freewheeling life can explain that.

The man needs help. And I feel very inadequate to the task. I couldn’t even help one person for more than a few days. And there are just so many out there. I don’t know what to do.

Sometimes I resent this man. He doesn’t let me forget. He doesn’t give me the peace to drive home to my nice house at the end of my shift and climb into my hot tub and forget.

But then I realize that he probably would like to forget, too.

Seattle Hooverville

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Realtors — The Inside Scoop

People don’t give Realtors much thought unless they’re buying or selling a house. At least, I never did. And then I went and married one, so needless to say, I have some newfound insight on this particular career.

It’s a unique job that requires a unique skillset. 90% percent of the people who get their license do not renew it at the end of two years. And only 1% of Realtors make it to 25 years. My husband has been at it for16.5 years, so I’d say he’s at the upper end of the bell curve.

He also happens to love his job. That, of course, helps in any profession. But it’s a particular boon in this one, because it’s a challenging job to succeed at.

First of all, you only get paid if the sale is made. You might work with someone for months, and in the end walk away with nothing. Only half the people you work with result in a paycheck. A lot of the time it must feel like volunteer work. That would drive me insane.

Your paycheck isn’t steady. It’s either feast or famine, and that must make it difficult to pay your monthly bills. But my husband is quite good at long term planning and budgeting.

And then every time he does get a paycheck, he’s unemployed again. Much effort is expended in finding new clients. Fortunately he gets a lot of referrals from old clients, because they recognize how good he is at what he does.

He spends tons of time and money in continuing education, advertising, and marketing. So that big commission gets divided in a lot of ways. The profit margin is extremely slim, and it gets even more strained during an economic downturn.

He’s also never off the clock. He gets calls all hours of the day and night, seven days a week. If you want to do this job well, you have to strike while the iron is hot. And you never know when that will be.

People who go the “for sale by owner” route don’t realize how much they shortchange themselves. Realtors earn every penny they make. They increase your home’s exposure, they give advice in staging it so it looks desirable, and they are up to date on all the legal issues so you don’t make a horrible, expensive mistake. They are familiar with the market in the area so that you can be sure that your home is not priced too high or too low. They make sure all the t’s get crossed and all the i’s get dotted. They also have well known contacts in other parts of the industry so that you have a competent team on your side. When you try to go it alone, the real nightmare often comes when you forget to do something and it comes back to bite you after the sale is closed.

If you’re looking to buy a house, I cannot stress enough the importance of finding the right Realtor for you. The term Realtor is misunderstood by many. When people get their license from the Department of Licensing they are a real estate salesperson, aka Brokers. But only those that become members of the National Association of Realtors® are Realtors. Brokers don’t bother to correct people when they are mistakenly called a Realtor, but there is a higher standard and a Code of Ethics that Realtors adhere to. So don’t just pick some random person off the internet, or latch on to someone that you’ve only just met. Do your homework. Find someone who has worked in the field for several years, and knows your area well. Choose a someone who is a member of the NAR and who loves his or her job and will give you all the attention that you need.

The interesting thing about the job, the thing I would have never guessed, is that it’s really a helping profession. I think that’s what my husband loves best about it. You are helping people find a home that they can afford, and that they will love.

When he was helping me find my home, he spent a lot of time listening closely to what I was looking for. He quickly learned that it was important to me to have a big bathtub, a fireplace, and a dishwasher. On the other hand, I didn’t really care if I had a garage. But I did want off street parking (which is an important consideration in the Seattle area.) He figured out that I wouldn’t feel comfortable in one of those neighborhoods where all the houses looked alike. I would have stuck out like a sore thumb in a gated community. Because he took the time to learn all those things about me, he was able show me listings in my price range that fit the person that I am. That counts for so much. No two people get the same image in their heads when you say the word home. My husband really understands that. A good Realtor always will.

Another thing that a good Realtor will do is tell you to walk away from a house that he knows is not right for you. My husband did that several times, even though he knew that would delay his getting a commission. That’s when I knew he was a keeper, professionally speaking.

He also understands that the house buying and house selling process is stressful as all get out. There were two points in my process where I had a complete meltdown. I’m learning that that’s not uncommon. Sometimes my husband takes on the role of counselor or bartender. He listens. He advises. He reassures.

He also enjoys getting to meet new people. He shows them that he’s honest and really has their best interests at heart. For a long time, he couldn’t figure out why he felt a slight let down after a sale. Shouldn’t he be feeling triumphant? But then he realized that his clients quickly become his friends, and he was going to miss seeing them every day. Many of them are still friends years later.

I think the best part, for him, is getting to be his own boss, and being able to work with good people, knowing that their success in this monumental life task will also be his own.

If you are buying or selling a house in the Seattle area, (basically from Everett to Tacoma), contact me and I’ll put you in touch with my husband. You won’t regret it. And if you are located in any other part of the country, he can also help you find a reliable Realtor in your area.

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On Living Like a College Student

Lately I’ve seen the inside of several people’s houses, and it makes me wonder if I’m an exception to some rule that I’m not privy to. I don’t have a single room in which all the furniture matches. I never have. I don’t have a color scheme per se. I also don’t have a television or a couch, but that’s because I’ve been moving around a lot in recent years, and there’s only so much I’m willing to lug from pillar to port. My decorating consists mostly of textiles I’ve collected during foreign travels.

I’m also not neat as a pin. Don’t get me wrong, there are no moldy ham sandwiches lying about, and I am not a hoarder. The dishes get washed and the carpet gets vacuumed. But I have clutter, and I have dogs.

I basically live out of my bed. I rarely sit at the table. I eat in bed, blog in bed, read in bed. If I didn’t have a living room, I wouldn’t miss it. It’s just that room I walk through to get to the kitchen, and the place I store my beloved roll top desk.

After visiting other people’s houses, I look around my own and I realize that it’s not a place where others would make themselves at home. It works for me. I am comfortable. I know where everything is. But I suspect others wouldn’t go out of their way to live like I do, and House Beautiful is never going to beat down my door for a photo shoot.

It seems that when I went off to college I adopted a dormitory lifestyle, and I never quite seemed to have abandoned it. I probably ought to grow up domestically.

Nah, I can’t be bothered. I’d rather spend my money on travel.

[Image credit: blogs.hanover.edu]
[Image credit: blogs.hanover.edu]