Weekly Book Scan
When real estate pros talk to clients about decluttering their homes, they might not realize what they’re getting into. In fact, getting rid of stuff can be painful, even for those who aren’t hoarders or recent widows. It’s the normal, everyday resistance to purging our belongings that attracts Christy Diane Farr to the world of self-help writing and life coaching.
In Is Home Your Happy Place: The Unruly Woman’s Approach to Space Healing (Paper Angel Press), Farr explains that society reinforces the idea that hanging onto stuff is normal, and that she wants to help otherwise healthy people downsize in a balanced way. “The whole off-site storage industry popped up to reinforce that it’s not just normal but often necessary to possess more than our space will hold,” she writes. “I’m more of a normative chaos kind of guide, if there is such a thing. I want to work with people whose lives are stuck; people who are reasonably functional but who are not living the dream.”
Early in the book, Farr identifies six types of things that people hold onto that stand in the way of living that dream. I think this list is especially helpful for Book Scan readers because if real estate pros can understand the reasons behind why their clients are holding onto stuff, it might help them more skillfully ease through this transition. And if nothing else, you might consider lending them Farr’s book, which is filled with funny asides and assignments created to help people “release” the stuff that’s holding them back.
1. Stuff that makes you feel crazy. Farr uses the example of food storage containers, which I find maddeningly familiar (who hasn’t yelled exasperatedly at the cupboard containing the tupperware at least once in their life?). She encourages readers to balance the functionality of any given item with the space that’s claimed by it. “The madness of trying to manage them far outweighs anything even remotely resembling the convenience that would be using them.”
2. Stuff that’s broken. I’m totally guilty of keeping things around with the intention of repair, but without actually doing anything about it. “If you’re not going to fix it, let it go. It’s either worth the time, money, and energy it takes to make it work, or it just isn’t. Free it, and free yourself.”
3. Stuff that makes you hang onto an unpleasant past. Farr deals with this a lot throughout the book, because she clearly recognizes the pain that comes with decluttering. “The stuff is locked into the feelings and the feelings are locked into the stuff. It doesn’t matter from which side we break the lock. What matters is that we break it,” she writes. “It works because dealing with our clutter is simply a willingness to, at long last, deal with ourselves.”
4. Stuff that’s expired. Here Farr is talking both about old food and meds, but also stuff that has a less obvious expiration date. “The idea behind the expiration date challenge can be applied to all aspects of your life. Since my kids are going to college soon, my maternity clothes are expired. Books I’ve read and have no intention of reading again are expired,” she writes. “If our relationship with this stuff was intended to be eternal, caskets would be bigger. Once something expires, we can let it go.”
5. Stuff that sucks. I love this one! Farr mentions as examples cleaning products that don’t work as they say they will and clothes that don’t look good on. “Ultimately, the goal here is to own only those things that we use or truly love. We want to be surrounded by things that feel good to us.”
6. Stuff that used to be a good idea. This one is especially pertinent for the crafters out there. I like Farr’s challenge to gather all the supplies for projects left undone, and force the issue: “I put them all in this box and labeled it with an expiration date one month from today. This will keep the ‘I meant to…,’ from going on forever. Otherwise, it will. I know this because I’ve met me before. If I want a different outcome, I’ve got to do something different.”
They say necessity is the mother of invention, and when you’re trying to live in small confines, some new thinking might indeed be necessary. However, there are also historic examples that may prove to provide solutions that make downsizing easier. After all, overly-large homes haven’t always been de rigueur. That’s why some developers and builders working in the environmentally friendly and small-home niches are harvesting and resurrecting smart ideas from the past to create efficient, comfortable spaces. The point is beautifully and succinctly made in a book being released today: Prefabulous Small Houses (Taunton Press, 2016) by Sheri Koones.
The book is filled with imagery of small homes and cabins that seem to melt into the background thanks to thoughtful site placement and design. Even real estate pros in markets that are all about “bigger is better” will find the detailed definitions of environmentally-friendly home features and building materials, from SIPS to induction cooktops, to be a handy reference. The information can help you sell a house that has space- and energy-saving elements, regardless of its size or construction methodology.
But back to the “old is new” phenomenon. Here are a few of the ways the book demonstrates the use of materials and techniques from the past to make eco-friendly small-home living more achievable and comfortable. Not just for farmers anymore, barn doors save room by eliminating the clearance needed for traditional doors to swing open, as they remain flush with a wall. Koones notes that the same functionality can be applied to other design problems, such as hiding television sets or temporarily dividing up rooms and flex space. She also notes that designers don’t need to take the word “barn” literally; though these doors are often reclaimed wood or rustic in style, they are also often sourced from materials that can be made to fit virtually any interior decor.
Even though they’ve been around since the 1980s, compact wall-hung toilets are gaining popularity with homeowners who want to save space in the bathroom. Modern versions add up to 12 inches of floor space, and since they don’t rest on the floor, they’re easier to clean. Finally, they tend to use about 20 percent less water than standard toilets, which brings me to the topic of resource efficiency.
It’s easy to forget the dark ages before central heating and cooling, but that doesn’t mean the innovations that helped humans stay comfy for the past several thousand years should be discarded now. Masonry heaters are very efficient fireplace-like structures that burn wood at such a high temperature that they emit less pollution than other combustion-based heating methods. Due to the fact that they’re made of dense masses of brick, stone, or concrete, they store and slowly radiate heat outward, warming a room for hours after the fire burns out. Homeowners tell Koones they can keep their homes heated for 24 hours with just one fire each day.
Similarly, stack-effect cooling, also known as the chimney effect, is passive natural ventilation that occurs when warmer, less-dense indoor air rises out the top of a structure and draws in denser, cooler air from below. This both regulates temperature and creates a natural flow for healthy air circulation. Many smaller structures achieve this idea through towers or chimneys, but skylights or clerestory windows can also help. When builders create the lower inlet to bring air in and the upper one to let hot air out at the top of the house, they now make them so that they’re adjustable, allowing home owners to regulate temperature through a thermostat. The coolest thing about this inexpensive system (yes, pun intended)? It uses virtually no energy. And that’s what I call livin’ tiny.
I recently came across this piece from Next City talking about a reading list for the city of Boston, and it got me thinking. Of course, a city-wide book club isn’t anything new; for more than a decade my fair town has put on One Book, One Chicago, in which our public libraries organize a series of events surrounding a book that has some bearing on our city or shared history.
But Boston is doing something more novel (mind the pun), in that the books they’ve chosen are meant to inform a citywide planning process known as Imagine Boston 2030. The goal is to “guide positive physical change while promoting shared prosperity, coordinated public investments, and a healthy environment and population.” The idea is that reading books about a certain topic can help residents think more deeply and creatively about the specific problems facing a city. (Incidentally, that’s the same way I feel about this blog and the usefulness of reading long-form writing about housing, property ownership, and the real estate industry at large!)
Anyway, here’s the list with all the Boston-specific books removed. Which books do you think your town could benefit from reading together? Anything you’d add?
- The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs.
This seminal 1961 book is a critique of 1950s urban planning policy, which it holds responsible for the decline of many city neighborhoods in the United States.
- Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, by Jeff Speck
An urban planner makes the case for transforming downtowns into walkable communities as a way to fix the typical American city, complete with practical tips for achieving his vision.
- The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, by Robert Caro.
This Pulitzer Prize-winning biography focuses on the creation and use of power in local and state politics, as witnessed through Moses’ use of unelected positions to design and implement dozens of highways and bridges, sometimes at great cost to surrounding communities.
- The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong, by Judith Rodin
This book examines dozens of cities across the globe that have been hit by large-scale catastrophes—natural disaster, geopolitical conflict, food shortages, disease and contagion, terrorist attacks—combining their stories with practical insights and research to help build a more dynamic, resilient future.
- Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond
A Harvard sociologist takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge.
- The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future, by Joseph Stiglitz
A Nobel Prize-winning economist explains how income inequality affects and is affected by every aspect of national policy, and offers a vision for a way to achieve a more just and prosperous future.
‘Tis the political season, wherein the country is sliced and diced into segments: blue vs. red, male and female voting blocs, and dozens of different demographic groups. So perhaps there is no better time to crack pollster John Zogby’s latest book, We Are Many, We Are One: Neo-Tribes and Tribal Analytics in 21st Century America.
It’s a fascinating look at 11 different subsections of American adults based on an extensive survey launched in 2009 where Zogby, rather than relying on the current media constructs listed above, actually asked 8,000+ respondents to define themselves.
You may be wondering why real estate pros should care. But I found the book to be not only a potentially powerful marketing tool, but also a concise way to better understand how these segments of America feel about and interact with the housing market, their communities, and the American Dream at large. So, here are Zogby’s tribes (in ascending order in terms of their approximate share of the overall population) and some of the relevant housing data he reports in the book.
The Outsiders (5.8 percent of the adult population)
It’s a good thing these guys are such as small percentage, because man, are they sad. Zogby defines them as a cynical lot who have been dealt setbacks and don’t expect anything all that great to happen to them. They also aren’t strongly affiliated with institutions or other communities.
- Only half own their own homes, the lowest percentage of any of the groups
- 37% live in the suburbs, 24% are in small cities, 21% in large cities and 18% are rural
- Nearby amenity to look for: privacy. They lead all the tribes in terms of self-identifying as individualists, and they don’t rank any the tribe-building activities Zogby asked about (festivals, school events, places of worship, etc.) very high at all
The Self-Perfectionists (8.3%)
This is an individualistic group concerned with improving themselves and not focused on community events or entertaining. They have the highest percentage of single, never-married adults (41%) of all tribes.
- They have the second-lowest concentration of home ownership, at 62%
- 33% live in the suburbs, 28% in large cities, 23% in small cities, and 16% are rural
- Nearby amenity to look for: Food co-ops and farmers markets. Well over half of them pay close attention to the environmental impact of their food and care about locally produced food
The Happy Hedonists (11%)
This group wants to live life to the fullest and enjoy themselves in the process. Also, they’re not afraid to spend some money in the effort.
- 61% own their own home
- More live in large cities (36%) than any other tribe; meanwhile 33% live in suburbs, 20% in small cities and 11% live in rural areas (the lowest of any other tribe)
- Nearby amenity to look for: gyms and good restaurants (they lead the pack in emphasizing the importance of good food and exercise)
The Adventurists (12.2%)
These guys lead the pack in terms of having the highest percentage of members in the “investor class” and are more likely than most tribes to consider themselves social networkers.
- 64% are homeowners
- While 35% are in the suburbs, they are second-highest in terms of those who live in big cities (31%); 18% are in small cities and 16% are rural
- Nearby amenity to look for: Opportunity for adventure! They’re the most likely of any tribe to want to dive to the bottom of the ocean, and they’re tied for the top in terms of the percentage who have an active passport.
The One True Path (13.4%)
Zogby defines this group as the new face of American Evangelicals—conservative and religious, but more concerned with social justice than traditional marriage, say.
- 65 percent own their own homes
- 36% are suburban, 27% are in large cities, 20% are rural and 18% live in small cities
- Nearby amenity to look for: Opportunities for family connection. While only one in four have children living at home, this group places more value on family than any other tribe (translating to a need for guest bedrooms, formal entertainment space, and/or granny flats, perhaps?)
The Creators (14.5%)
These artsy, free-spirited bohemians are eager to forge their own path to happiness and personal fulfillment. Perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek, Zogby says “Regardless of where they live physically, their minds and hearts belong on the Upper East Side.”
- 66 percent own their own homes
- While 32% reside in suburbs, a relatively high percentage live in big cities (27%). You’ll find 24% in smaller cities and 17% in rural areas
- Nearby amenity to look for: 70% say music festivals strengthen their tribal bonds, though they also dig farmer’s markets
The Persistents (19.4%)
These folks are mostly likely to name a tragedy as the defining factor in their lives, and what binds them together is their ability to persevere beyond it.
- 2 in 3 own their own homes
- 36% live in suburbs, 23% live in big cities, 21% in rural areas and 19% in small cities
- Nearby amenity to look for: Charities or support groups that can help them connect with others who define themselves as survivors; in forming interpersonal bonds, 71% look for such qualities in others
Go With the Flow (23.5%)
Members of this group seek balance. Zogby notes they “say what they mean and mean what they say. And they say it gently.” Interestingly, they’re least likely of all the tribes to say the American Dream is dead (12%).
- 62% own their own homes
- 33% are found in big cities, another 33% in the suburbs, 20% are in smaller cities, and 14% are rural
- Nearby amenity to look for: Dependable, stable chain stores. This group ranks very low in terms of wanting to be the first to try something new in their neighborhoods
The God Squad (24.9 percent)
Zogby defines this group as “relying on God, family, and traditional values to give them some stability and an explanation for their world gone sour.” Interestingly, two in five say that, in a fantasy world, they would still be living in their current home.
- 68% own their own home
- Most (33%) live in the suburbs, though a higher percentage of them (24%) live in rural areas than almost every other tribe. 23% are in large cities and 20% live in small ones
- Nearby amenity to look for: A place of worship (83% place special importance on this feature in their lives)
The Dutifuls (26.9%)
These folks follow the laws of society closely, living simply and according to the Golden Rule. They’re also highly oriented to family and the value of authenticity.
- 71% own their own homes
- They have the highest percentage of suburbanites at 38%, with the rest more or less equally distributed among the other three living environments
- Nearby amenity to look for: easy access to family-friendly getaways. From the range of tribe-building activities Zogby asked about, they get the most satisfaction from family vacations, and are more likely than any other tribe to spend unexpected money on family members
Land of the Free (33.2%)
This group counts the largest number of veterans of all the tribes. They’re more than willing to step up and fight for “truth, justice, and the American way” (though Zogby notes they’re most likely to feel the American Dream is on its last legs).
- They have the highest percentage of home owners at 73%
- 38% live in the suburbs, 22% in rural areas, 21% in small cities and 19% in big cities
- Nearby amenity to look for: Opportunities to age in place. They are the oldest of the tribes, and they value their independence
What do you think? See your clients (or yourself) in any of these groups?
Mark Roesler hopped in his car on a Saturday morning in the 1980s and drove to the quaint Indiana town where family members of the late film icon James Dean lived. An intellectual property rights attorney, Roesler sat down with Dean’s aunt and cousin on their farm to explain to them that they deserved rights to Dean’s image and authority over how it was used commercially. Roesler made no fuss — he didn’t make a show of being a glitzy, high-powered lawyer. He simply earned the family’s trust, which opened the door for him to represent them in a multimillion-dollar landmark case that changed the entertainment industry and made it so that corporations no longer owned sole rights to the images of celebrities they made famous.
Before matchmaker Janis Spindel introduced her client to the love of his life, she went on a date with him herself. Over dinner, she made small talk with her client, getting to know him and what he was looking for in a woman. Naturally, he wanted someone beautiful. “Men are very visual and can be extremely superficial and shallow. It’s part of their DNA,” Spindel told her client. It didn’t exactly sound like a good pitch for her services. “Don’t worry, I will find somebody that you will be attracted to. But then, there is the rest of the package.” Her honesty won her client’s heart. She introduced him to a schoolteacher — and by the end of the year, they were married.
When Phillip Styrlund, now head of consulting and sales training firm The Summit Group, landed his first sales job, he had no experience. He had been working in IT for a telecommunications company, but when the firm was about to lose one of its biggest clients, Styrlund’s boss told him he would be in charge of mending the client relationship. He’d never done anything like that before. So on the first day of his new role, he decided to be as transparent with the customer as possible. “I’m brand-new,” Styrlund said. “I’ve never been in sales. Guys, tell me what to do. How should we go about mending this relationship? What needs to happen?” His admission could have put the client off. But instead, it encouraged them to truly alongside him to repair the relationship. In two months, Styrlund and his client checked off a laundry list of grievances that had been resolved, and the customer was happy to stay.
No matter who you are or what you’re selling, everyone uses this main tactic to close a deal: make the customer believe in you — and then they can believe in your product. That’s the overarching theme in a collection of personal short stories from entrepreneurs of all business types captured in Success Secrets of Sales Superstars: The Moves and Mayhem Behind Selling Your Way to the Top as Told by 34 Industry Leaders. Authors Robert L. Shook and Barry Farber tapped leaders in a wide array of industries — including real estate — to talk about some of the most challenging and memorable moments of landing a tough sale.
Farber has written for REALTOR® Magazine before on the “4 Ways to a More Honest Sales Relationship.” Chief among his tips is to focus on connecting to something that’s important to your client instead of trying to make the client connect to what you’re selling. If you can win their loyalty by connecting with them on a personal level, clients will buy into your sales pitch. In Success Secrets of Sales Stars, it’s clear that’s a near-universal philosophy, as sports agents, financial advisors, CEOs, auto salespeople, and real estate professionals alike write about how this practice helped them win the sales that made their careers.
We all need a little inspiration from outside our own circles to learn how we can do what we do even better. If you want to see how the successes of salespeople in completely different industries can apply to your real estate business, this book is a good place to start.