I never actually set out to be a Long Beach Realtor. Like many little girls growing up in the 1960s, my first career aspiration was ballerina. Too bad I was uncoordinated and clumsy. Piano player was another fleeting option, but I hated to practice.
I remember that some of my childhood friends seemed to know exactly what they wanted to be when they grew up – architect, doctor, veterinarian. I admired their decisiveness but didn’t share it.
In high school, when many of my classmates seemed to know what they were doing and selected colleges based on those choices, I was still clueless. I was Valedictorian of my class at Costa Mesa High School and I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
After three years of taking whatever college classes interested me, I realized I’d better decide on a major quickly or I wouldn’t be graduating the following year. A quick calculation of units revealed that the only way I’d graduate from UC Irvine was with a degree in Social Ecology, a multidisciplinary approach to social problems and the area in which I’d taken most of my classes.
But what in the world do you do with a social ecology degree? I continued my college job, working at a day care center for senior citizens with Alzheimers Disease. I found it incredibly depressing because no matter what I did, our clients got worse and worse, and then they died. One day during lunch, when my favorite little old man keeled over and died, I decided I needed a new career.
So I did a lot of serious thinking about what I was good at. I’d always done well at researching and learning new things and then writing about them. Hmmm… maybe a career in journalism? Had I thought about it earlier, I might have written for the high school or college paper. I might have had internships. That might have led to a job.
As it was, I found myself back in school at UC Berkeley, working on a masters degree in journalism. And then off I went to work at newspapers. I wrote and edited stories about crime and courts and schools and cities and all kinds of other things. After eight years, when it became obvious that newspapers were dying, I decided to pursue public relations.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the career change came with a nice bump in pay – which meant that I could now actually afford to buy a home. So I began obsessively looking online. This was in the early days of Homeseekers.com and I would plug in a price range, number of bedrooms and bathrooms and compare what I could buy in various Southern California communities. On weekends, I’d drag my husband to various cities and neighborhoods, comparing and contrasting and going to open houses. And in my spare time, I read a book on how to buy a home in California. Cover to cover. Twice. I was determined to be the most informed house buyer ever.
By the time we actually found a home, I was so familiar with the contract, I pointed out items to our Realtor that she needed to correct, details that she’d missed. What the book didn’t tell me, though, and what she didn’t explain was what a short sale was. This was in 1996 and short sales were relatively rare so we didn’t know that months after making our offer, we would still be nowhere close to closing.
So while we were waiting, I continued to look. I called on signs and ads and flyers. I grew very frustrated at how few of my calls were returned. After our initial Realtor began showing us homes that weren’t anywhere close to what we were seeking, we looked for another. And we were disappointed by the lack of professionalism we encountered.
“I think that if you did nothing but return people’s calls and do what you said you were going to do, you could be really successful in real estate,” I told my husband. He laughed, but I was really serious.
Two years later, the bank I was working for was acquired by another bank. They gave me an option – I could stay and keep my same job, benefits, pay, and title. Or I could sign up for a generous severance package. So I said, “Sign me up,” and enrolled in real estate classes.
My mother was very disappointed. A former hippie herself, she viewed real estate agents as just one rung up from used car salespeople. My sister is an immigration attorney, which is quite “acceptable,” but I was a disappointment. I’d gone from being a journalist, a “noble” profession, to being a bank vice president to a real estate sales person.
As for myself, I’ve never really thought of what I do as sales. I just love having the opportunity to see so many unique homes (especially the cool historic ones), to be out in the community, to have constant variety. I try to make sure my clients don’t experience the same frustration I went through when I bought my first home. One weekend when my dad was visiting me, he made a comment that he was surprised that what I did seemed as much like social work as sales. At that time, I had a couple clients who were going through rough transitions in their lives and I was trying to help as much as possible. Buying a home is stressful and my team and I do everything we can to help make the process as smooth as possible.
About a year or two into my real estate career in Long Beach, I realized that I was still doing many of the things that had attracted me to journalism –meeting people, researching and learning things, and writing. And I was making a difference in people’s lives– the thing that led me to take all those social ecology classes. It’s interesting how life comes full circle like that, isn’t it?