True net worth!

A few years ago, during the precipitous fall of the real estate market, I took a ride with an affected builder client to eastern Washington. He had been my premier client and our work together had spanned about 20 years and maybe 250 transactions. We had taken some trips before but this one was kind of sad. We were on our way to list for sale a recreational property he owned in eastern Washington. The truth is, he needed money to pay off some debt caused by the downturn. Actually, he sold most of his possessions, including a second home in Palm Springs. While he never filed bankruptcy, this was a deep cut.

To make matters worse, he would in time develop debilitating nerve pain in his neck and need neck surgery. Shortly thereafter he also developed stage 3 skin cancer and would need to take chemotherapy for a year. His business that employed family members and a long term employee would dwindle and their jobs would be lost. On this trip we talked man to man and he was dealing with how unfair this situation was. He, a very honest and good man, had come out on the short end.

As we rode and I stared out the windshield I had an impression. While I didn’t want to be a “Job’s counselor” I reluctantly, and hopefully humbly, shared an observation with him (the recent subsequent passing of Paul Allen underscores the reality of what I went on to share with my friend).

I remember saying to him, “What if you died today, and Bill Gates died today too. Since you live in the same general area, there is a remote but possible chance you and Gates could be in the same funeral home. If that happened, you would be lying down the hall from one of the world’s wealthiest men. One man would be leaving this world a billionaire. Another man would be leaving this world with not too much wealth. But neither would be taking anything with them but their integrity and their reputation.” To this day, I don’t know if it helped him but it helped me see some perspective.

My friend now is mostly retired, doing some odd jobs and is happier than I ever remember him being. He no longer has a crew, massive debt and a staggering to-do list. He no longer wakes up at 3 AM wondering how it will all turn out. Through the real estate depression, he managed to save his home and pay it off. He still has some meager assets but nothing like he once had. But he is at peace, has his health, his wife of nearly 50 years and 10 grandkids. He no longer flies an airplane or takes trips to Africa. But, he recently bought a camper trailer, goes on walks with his wife, attends services at his faith community and does mostly what he wants on a daily basis. He is happy, at peace and is respected by all who know him.

The takeaway. Life isn’t about how much net worth you have or how high you climb. Your true net worth is about being thankful for the existential realities of life and about being a steward of the short time you have on this planet. It is about being at peace with yourself, your family, your accomplishments and your core values.

The Best Sales Lesson Ever


I have sold real estate for 35 years in the greater Seattle area. When I started in the business in 1984, interest rates for mortgages were at 15%.  Times were tough and the market in Seattle was nothing like it is today. There was no internet, no fax machines, mostly no computers and certainly no electronic signatures. If you really wanted to get docs to out of town clients, you put it in the overnight mail. When possible, real estate brokers still routinely met personally with buyers and sellers when negotiating deals.

A few years into my career, I received a referral from an out of area broker regarding a listing lead in my area. The referring broker had actually worked with the potential seller in the past at a large truck sales dealership. The client had just been transferred for business and moved three hours east to the Yakima area. The house that he needed sold was in my market area, vacant and ready to sell.

So I drove by the home, prepared my comparable sales market analysis and called the seller the next day. I introduced myself to him and expected to set up a phone appointment to discuss listing the home. He promptly informed me that he had already verbally committed the listing to another broker. I was kind of stunned. I was expecting, as with most referrals, a rather motivated client and a mostly done deal.

After an awkward beginning on the phone, I asked if I could come and present the sales data to him in person.  He declined and said there was no need.  Now I’m feeling a little desperate and my competitive juices are beginning to flow. I asked him, “but would you be home tomorrow at 10 AM if I came to see you.” He responded frankly, “no need, as I mentioned to you, I have already have a broker and you would be wasting your time.” I responded, “but IF I came to see you would you be home.” The seller responded,  “Oh I’ll be here all right but don’t drive 3 hours for nothing.”

So I left the office and promptly went home and told my wife the story and  told her that I was going to Yakima early in the morning.  She wasn’t in favor of this long shot trip and believed I would wasting a Saturday, a tank of gas and will have nothing to show for it.  Plus we had two small children and they needed to see their dad on occasion. (I worked a lot of hours in those days). I understood her concerns but…

So I left early the next morning and headed to Yakima. Growing up on the Kansas plains we used to go on long drives in the country for no other reason but to think and talk. On the trip, I had a nice time listening to music and taking in the scenery.  It was cloudy when I left Seattle but sunny in eastern Washington. So the drive wasn’t a burden and I was happy to see the sun.

When I arrived at the seller’s house he was somewhat surprised. It was a nice spring Saturday morning and he actually out mowing the lawn when I arrived.  Not expecting me, his wife was out shopping. With that said, he was cordial and he listened intently as I did my presentation. 

When I finished with my short analysis of his home and the market he said, “Okay, I’ll list with you.” I was now a little surprised but got out the paperwork and proceeded.   His wife arrived just in time for her to sign too.  Soon the executed listing paperwork was safely in my briefcase. As I prepared to leave, I asked the burning question: “Why did you list with me when you said you wouldn’t.” His answer I have never forgotten.

“Sid, I’m a sales manager and my team sells big semi trucks. You had the sales grit and hustle to drive 3 hours to see me even after you had been told you weren’t getting the business. You are my kind of salesman!  I only wish my sales people had determination and hustle like you have just demonstrated.”

The house promptly went on the market and sold, closed and I got paid. But the real payoff was what I learned that spring day.  I learned that the greatest virtue one can bring to the sales desk is hustle and service. The person who provides those characteristics will never lack a job or an income.

I would like to take a trip like that each and every week!