My parents wanted to move in the Spring. They just hired a new real estate duo after having listed their house with a feckless wanker for 90 days who begrudgingly took some time out of his fapping schedule to take down his sign and come and get his lockbox and say he was sorry in a passive aggressive way: “I guess everybody is blaming the market on me.” Shut. The. Front. Door.
Real estate isn’t rocket science but it’s tricky. It’s a lot of smoke and mirrors and spinning the headlines that the newspapers spout out daily about “The Market” in a way that can get things rolling. The new agents that they hired seem to have the system down and their game plan tight. When I met them, I didn’t tell them I used to be an agent, but they guessed pretty quickly. It’s like a secret society. The truth is that most agents are actually cool and if you see one with his or her picture on a bus shelter, feel free to draw a dick on the side of their faces, they love a good joke.
When my kids were really young and before I got smart and joined a gym that had kickass daycare that I could leave them in for two glorious hours everyday, I hung out at the Williamson Road Rec Centre 3 mornings a week. There was a room upstairs, hosted by an ancient lady named Alma and we, the hapless beach mothers, would dump our kids with her, throw a toonie in her teacup and head to the gymnasium for an old fashioned aerobics class. Alma was frail and in first stages of dementia but none of us cared. It was a whole hour for us to shimmy around with out a sticky little cling-on sucking on our tits.
I made fast friends with a woman named Heather who was obsessed with local real estate. She got me right into it. It was just Before the Internet (B.I.) and we would get all excited for every second Tuesday when the Beach Metro News would come out and the local realtors (who were like celebrities to us) would advertise their latest listings. We’d go to open houses on weekends and we’d convene on Monday in the line up to get into the rec centre. We’d come extra early to get a limited spot because lazy old Alma could only handle a half tonne of shitty diapers in a sitting.
“Did you see the house on Willow? What a dump! I can’t believe what they’re asking!”
“Is that Natasha von Beaverstein’s listing? (note: names have been changed!) God, she’s scary in person! Honestly, I thought she was a vampire, I actually gasped when she opened the door!”
Heather and I both joined the Mayfair on the same day. She had the brilliant idea to enroll our kids in afternoon kindergarten so we could put them in the gym daycare in the mornings and then while they were in school, we could troll houses. It turned out all the real estate agents were members and would work out in the mornings. The 9:30 step class was like a red carpet event for us. Real estate agents all had the same kind of look: Coiffed hair and thong (!) leotards over top of leggings. This was Before Lululemon (B.L.) and it was the hot look, don’t judge. Heather and I wore oversized tshirts and cycling shorts because you can’t take the rec centre out of the girl.
We befriended Dawn in the locker room. Dawn was a sassy agent with Prudential, she was sexy and glamourous with bountiful hair and boobs to match. She was also desperately trying to get pregnant with her super hot husband. She was interested in us because we had kids, and we adored her because she was an agent. In my mind, her life was perfect but she had her share of problems. The main one was that she was sick of fucking her husband.
“Ladies, can I ask you a question?” She asked us one day as we were changing into our gym gear.
“Of course!” I love a question. Seriously, ask me anything.
“Do you still give your husbands blow jobs?” She sighed forlornly as she snapped her thong into place.
Heather roared: “God no! I have all the furniture I need!”
Oh how we laughed for a year after that. “Furniture” became our euphemism for all things sexual: “I’m going in the whirlpool to rub out an ottoman,” “That new trainer is cute, I’d like to straddle his Chesterfield,” etc…
As the time passed, Dawn finally became pregnant (and got the worst hair cut ever!) and Heather went off to get her real estate license and stopped coming to the gym altogether. I got a personal trainer and my mojo became an untamed monster, definitely fodder for a future blog post after a few slugs of Bourbon, you’ll want to stay tuned for that.
One day in the locker room, a couple of months after Dawn had her baby and her hair had miraculously grown back to its former glory, she strutted naked in front of me and said, “Well, I got my body back! Let’s go get our belly buttons pierced this afternoon.”
Alrighty. There’s pretty much nothing I won’t do if someone asks. So we got our belly buttons pierced and afterwards, in my mind, it was time for a pint but she said, “Well, it’s back to work!”
“What is it that you do?” It’s one o’clock in the afternoon, cocktail hour for the moms of the world. Don’t real estate agents have the same kind of schedule?
“Get your real estate license already!” she said, buttoning up her Burberry trenchcoat with her acrylic French manicured fingernails. And her hair. It was blond and shiny, and when she flung it out from under her collar it landed all straight and smooth without those wispy flyaways. Something snapped in my brain: “OKAY I WILL!”
So that was the day my real estate career was conceived. By the time I got my license, the internet was a happening thing and I joined Prudential just as Dawn was leaving. Get this: Dawn’s super hot husband got dot-com mega-wealthy in the internet porn industry! They moved to the Bahamas! She had another baby! The only bad thing I can say about her is that her belly button got infected after the piercing and she had to take the ring out! Bitch!
I learned quickly that the real estate industry is not as easy as it looks. When we first bought a house, the agents had daily books where they looked up listings and took you to see houses by appointment. The internet was changing everything, now the old timey agents were sitting in the bull pens playing Solitaire on the computer while the young ‘uns were interwebbing on the go with their Blackberrys. It was a whole new ball game.
I didn’t know where to begin so I pretended it was like the good old days when Heather and I went poking into open houses and making fake appointments from the newspaper ads. I got some clients advertising other people’s listings in one of those real estate rags that are distributed in the boxes on street corners. It was how I met the amazing late Shelagh Gordon whose obituary was a beautiful feature story in the Toronto Star earlier this year. She sold ad space and also played part-time life coach to disgruntled real estate agents throughout the GTA.
“I don’t know how to word these ads!’ I complained to her over the phone. Back when Heather and I were amateurs, the houses we visited were all lived-in hoarding messes. You’d walk into an open house, and people were cooking their dinners or a teenager would still be asleep in his room. Houses were homes. We could refer to them by how they smelled: “The Gangrene House” in East York (where the diabetic alcoholic husband refused medical attention while both his feet rotted) was one of our very favourites! Everyone was starting to “stage’ their houses to sell and they all looked alike and they all smelled like Glade plug-ins.
“Try and evoke an emotion using words like “cozy and charming,”‘ she suggested.
“If I see another living room painted the colour of a paper bag with two matching Barcelona chairs framing the window, I am going to take a shit in the punchy pomegranate powder room and NOT flush the toilet! Rage is the only emotion I can come up with!”
“I sooo get what you are saying, it’s like those agents say: Let’s put some lipstick on this pig and take it town!” she laughed, and it was the first time I heard that expression and it stuck.
And that’s pretty much how I thought of my whole real estate career over the next 5 years, only I was the pig in lipstick.
I did have some good times and really great clients but something wasn’t jiving. The only reason I got into the business was because I loved going into people’s homes and checking out how they lived, I fancied myself a modern anthropologist. There were stories in them there walls. And I loved the buyers who also had their own stories to tell while I drove them around. They had visions of how they wanted their homes to be. But as the houses for sale were all looking indistinguishable from each other, the buyers had lost all imagination, they all wanted the same open concept, granite counter tops, and pot lights. This blueprint made successful real estate agents even more successful and the rest fall by the wayside.
So I quit. I’ve got enough stories in my head to entertain you for a while.
I lost track of Heather because she moved to a fancier neighbourhood and doesn’t have Facebook but I found out through her old neighbour that she had also quit real estate. She works in the designer district on King Street and of all things, she sells FURNITURE! True story.
Shelagh Gordon is Thea’s boyfriend’s aunt — his mom Heather’s sister. Thea was devastated along with everyone else when she died. Small world.
I love your story…