If you want to buy a blue bicycle, you can’t limit your search to a store that sells only red sports cars. This was my thought as I listened to a friend of mine complain that there was nothing good on the real estate market right now. Looking to purchase investment property, he had just finished looking at our neighbor’s house for sale. I sympathized with him and said all of the polite things, even though I was thinking that if my wife (Clair) and I had taken that same approach we never would have been the house on the other side of the fence.
After spending Thanksgiving of 2012 with my family in Oklahoma and seeing how much our kids loved my sister’s huge backyard, we returned to Texas with our minds made up on moving to a house with at least one acre. There were a few other upgrades we wanted as well, but the extra outdoor space was number one on the list.
At the time we lived in a typical stacked-on-top-of-each-other subdivision. The house was fine and plenty big enough for the five of us, but our yard was measured in square feet, the driveway had a steeper slope than Nob Hill, and the shower in our master bathroom would make a mummy claustrophobic.
After several weeks of looking, Clair fell in love with a specific neighborhood, Hunter’s Creek. For reasons I can’t even remember any more (but I’m willing to bet she could), I was against it. In the weeks that followed we looked at houses all over the area and nothing seemed to fit. I relented and promised to spend one hour on a Saturday driving through the Hunter’s Creek neighborhood with her. I loved the neighborhood, but seeing how much she loved it was the true selling point for me. We made a pact that very day we would look only in Hunter’s Creek.
There was one slight problem.
In the entire neighborhood, there was only one house on the market. We did go and look at it, but the yard was smaller than we wanted and the interior layout wouldn’t work for us. Also, it was half-a-million dollars. A wee bit outside of our price range.
Undeterred, we decided if there weren’t any houses for sale, we would have to buy one that wasn’t for sale. We came up with a plan and got to work. Using Google maps and the appraisal district, we created a spreadsheet database of every house in the neighborhood. We even threatened our realtor that we would attend the home owner’s association annual meeting, justifying that we were authorized as future home owners. Using our database and Facebook, we teamed up with our realtor and asked common friends if anyone knew someone who was considering selling their home in Hunter’s Creek.
The plan worked. Ten days after committing to the pact, someone reached out to our realtor via Facebook. She and her husband had wanted to sell their home for some time, but the thought of getting it ready to go on the market and the subsequent parade of people through the house had scared them off. Once presented with the option that they could sell their house without the typical dog and pony show they were as excited as us. It was a perfect match. We missed the HOA meeting, but 60 days later we were actual Hunter’s Creek homeowners.
A terrific real estate agent was working with us the entire time and while she wasn’t crazy about the more extreme aspects of our plan, her help was invaluable. We couldn’t have done it without her, but the bigger point here is that she couldn’t have done it without us either. We didn’t sit back and put all of the work on her and wait for her to deliver. We were on the front lines with her, working hard to get the result we wanted.
We could have easily been satisfied with giving up, throwing our hands up in the air and saying, “We looked at the only house there was for sale. What else can we do?” As you can tell from the action we took, there was a lot we could do. A whole lot.
But I’ve seen people and companies take the opposite approach. They put little effort into what needs to be accomplished and then blame bad luck or bad timing when the reality is they gave up before even seriously getting started. “What else could we do?”
A friend of mine works for a company that appears stuck in the middle of a major two-year acquisition phase. His job with the platform company is to run the operations and integrate new companies purchased, leaving the investment firm with the responsibility of searching for, and bringing to the table, good companies to buy. The company and firm had gotten together at the start of the period to specifically define what their targets would look like.
He went to work on the operations side, the investment firm went to work… answering the phone. It turns out that their idea of prospecting is to answer the phone when a broker calls with a company he is shopping. If the company is even remotely related to the field, the investment firm brings them to the table, in one memorable case, even though the prospect failed to meet 4 of the 5 mutually-agreed upon strategic criteria.
After several of these duds, the executive staff called the investment firm to the carpet to see where the disconnect was. They claimed there weren’t enough companies on the market and they had brought them every “decent” one that was. “What else could we do?”
It seemed obvious. I encouraged my friend to get more involved in the process, heavily involved. To compile target lists of strategic fits that WERE NOT for sale. To show the investment firm that phones have buttons on them and you can actually use those for making outgoing calls. Even though the investment firm was out there (re)acting on behalf of his company, he and the rest of the executive staff had to take an active role if they wanted to achieve their goals.
This is how I have learned to approach things and how I suggest you approach them too. Whether an attorney, an investment firm, a real estate agent, or whatever – don’t sit back and expect the people you hire to do all of the work. In order to achieve what you want, you have a lot of work to do as well.
A lifetime ago, we used to manage the Randy Rogers Band (Clair designed the logo they still use today). Back then, Randy was playing Tuesday nights at Cheatham Street Warehouse and working for the publicist I used for the Groobees. Every time – and I mean every single time – I walked through that door, he handed me a copy of his first CD, Live at Cheatham Street Warehouse. By the time I finally got around to listening to it, I probably had eight or nine copies in my office. Though the disc had some rough edges (Randy has since retired it), you could still hear the talent. Beyond that, what made me want to work with Randy was his work ethic. I could tell that he had the same approach as we did and wouldn’t “quit” once he had a manager and booking agent. And I was right. The further he got in his career, the harder he worked. Even on his rare nights off (usually forced), he was still out at clubs networking and trying to land gigs or at a songwriting session with a friend. It’s not because of luck that he’s achieved the level of success he has, and there’s no better example of this than the fact that Randy OWNS Cheatham Street Warehouse now.
However, I’ve seen the other side of that equation and it isn’t pretty. People hire representation (attorney, accountant, public relations, investment firm, real estate, etc.) and then quit, adopting the mindset: I don’t have to hustle any more. That’s their job now. Not realizing that the agent is working for them so when they stop putting forth the effort, the person they are really quitting on is themselves! And guess who gets the blame? Not the guy (or gal) in the mirror. If you find yourself saying again and again, “I just can’t find a good real estate agent,” maybe it’s not the agent. Maybe it’s that all of your agents (real estate or other) are stuck with a shitty client.
Having a professional representing you and getting deeply involved, down in the mud and the trenches, can make something happen. Combining that with not limiting yourself to what is listed for sale, but broadening your horizons beyond what is “on the list,” can make something truly magical happen, maybe even the home of your dreams with a shiny blue bicycle to go with it.