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To Serve and Be Served: A Once in a Lifetime Transaction

Blog Contributor Buyers, Customer Service, Personal Fulfillment, Veterans Affairs 18 Comments

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Christian Zarif

By Christian Zarif

I almost didn’t answer my phone. I was in San Francisco for our national REALTOR® convention and rushing to get out of my room to an engagement (running 5 minutes late, of course). The strange number called twice in a row so I figured it must be urgent. When I answered, I could hardly make out the gurgled voice on the other end. I understood that the caller was inquiring about my new listing. I later learned the caller, Richard, had suffered a stroke a few years ago that affected his speech, among other things. I made out most of what he told me: He and his wife were interested in seeing the home I had listed as well as a few others in the area. They had called four other agents and all of them either wouldn’t return his calls or refused to show them any homes since they didn’t have a pre-approval letter. He was positive he could get a loan and was approved for a VA loan, but just waiting on his eligibility paperwork. I told him I was out of town until Monday but would be happy to set up a time Tuesday to show them homes.

Over the course of the weekend they called a handful of times to make sure I was still willing to meet them…you could hear the strained optimism in their voices. Each time they called, they had eliminated another home (they drove by all of them daily). We were down to only seeing one: my listing.

Tuesday rolled around and having just arrived back in town, you can imagine how insane my calendar looked that day. Driving the 45 minutes each way to show them one house wasn’t ideal, but I made it work.

Richard and Connie

The first time I met Richard and Connie in person I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I knew there something absolutely special about them.  At 70 years young, they still had the twinkle of first time buyers. I spent about an hour with them (much longer than I had planned given the home was a small three bed/two bath ranch). They wanted to check out every nook and cranny. I learned they had owned a home about 10 years ago but the neighborhood had become overrun with a gang. After pouring everything they had into that home to fix it up, they were forced, by gun point out of their home in the middle of the night and told to never return unless they wanted to be shot. They had lost everything. I also learned that Richard had served in Vietnam and was a POW. And Connie shared with me a picture of their 40 lb. cat…Baxter. They had moved into a local retirement community about a year ago to be near Richard’s ailing mother. She passed away last Fall and they decided it was time to live out their American Dream and buy a house they could enjoy in their golden years. One problem: they had very little money and a fixed income. However, they had done the math and knew owning a home was far less expensive than the outrageous rent they were paying (in the end, they are saving almost $900 a month!).

We talked every day after I met them. They had fallen in the love with the home. It offered the wheelchair access he would someday need, the yard he yearned for and it had a large finished walk-out basement Connie could use to continue offering quilting classes to her friends at the retirement home. I had urged them to go ahead and speak to a bank or lender to start the pre-approval process. Richard was sure his VA paperwork would come any day and was certain he needed it before starting a conversation with the bank. Richard and Connie live in a paper world. They don’t have cell phones, don’t own a computer and certainly don’t have Internet access/or web-a-ma-thingy knowledge. They needed paper in their hands. His eligibility paperwork had gone missing in their last move and they were patiently waiting for it to arrive in the mail (and I’m pretty sure as I write this, they are still waiting for it in the mail. We figured out a way around it).

While they waited, my seller received another offer. Being close to full price and a 30 day escrow, the seller had no reason not to take it. I called Richard and Connie to break the news to them. You can imagine their devastation. We still spoke about once a week. They would call to see if the deal had fallen through since the sign was still in the yard. Every week I explained to them it was set to close on December 20th and the sign would be up until it does. December 20th came and went without a closing due to some issues on the loan side.

I had been in touch with Richard and Connie to let them know the home might become available again. Sure enough it went back into “active” status on Saturday. I met them at the home on Sunday so they could take some more measurements and one more look around. I urged them again to talk to a lender and get that ball rolling. This time they took me seriously. Monday afternoon they called from the lender’s office. They were pre-approved and ready to write an offer. Since they don’t do highways and certainly don’t have GPS, I offered to come to them. In an effort not to make this story a mini-novel, I’ll save the details of the hysterical story about me driving around the city of Lee’s Summit for an hour trying to find the “Lakeside Grill” only to learn it was the name of the cafeteria attached to their apartment building.

Better late than never! The first thing Richard did was pull a handful of $100 bills out of his pocket: their earnest deposit. That was a first for me. I spent three hours with Richard and Connie that afternoon. Most of that time was spent chatting about their lives, how cautiously excited they were and greeting their friends as they arrived for dinner at 4 p.m. And then, Richard pulled out about 10 vinyl sleeves of pictures. Pictures from a trip to Vietnam he took in the 90s. It was unbelievable to sit with him and look through these pictures.

I left and called my seller. Although he was still disappointed that the previous deal fell apart, he was pleased with their offer and accepted. Richard and Connie were one step closer to making their dream a reality.

Through our 30-day escrow period we talked frequently…always by phone of course. Not being able to shoot them a quick email or text was occasionally a hassle, but only out of my own selfishness. I knew when I called them, I had better have 20 minutes to chat. I’d love to say I’m a saint, but there were a few times my patience wore a little thin and I’d have to fake another call coming in.

The entire process could not have been smoother. Every professional that came in contact with Richard and Connie couldn’t get over their pure joy and their unique story. In the majority of transactions today you don’t get that personal connection. Our sellers and buyers are more often than not relegated to just names on a piece of paper. Richard and Connie we are stark reminder for everyone what a privilege it is to do what we do as real estate professionals.

We were approaching closing and Richard was nervous as all get about the appliances not working. When my clients ask how late they can call me, I always tell them that I turn my ringer off at night and half joking, tell them if they wake up in the middle of the night stressed about something and need to get it off their chest, just call and leave me a voicemail. No one has ever taken me up on that…until Richard and Connie. He had nightmares that the portable dishwasher would leak and flood the entire house. To ease their mind and ensure the house was perfect when they moved in, I asked my go-to contractor, Sean, to make a trip out there the weekend prior to closing to get the old washer and dryer hooked up and make sure the dishwasher that was in the garage actually worked.

A week prior we had experienced two big snow storms. Knowing the seller rarely went by the house (he had already moved out), I called to ask if he could shovel the driveway or  certainly make arrangements to have it done. Richard and Connie knew that the contractor would be out at the house on Saturday. They drove by that morning and saw the driveway hadn’t been shoveled. There were drifts and piles for the plows that topped two feet. They were worried the contractor wouldn’t be able to get in or would fall. So what did this 70-year-old couple do? They went and bought a shovel. She cleared a path big enough for someone to get down the driveway.

After Sean met them that day, he made it his mission to get them the stove they needed. The current stove was gas and Richard is on oxygen (hello hazardous situation). They needed to convert the stove and didn’t have the funds to buy one. They were planning to use hot plates until they saved up enough money. I put a message out on Facebook to help get them an electric stove. Thanks to the quick generosity of friends, Sean and I went on a covert mission the night before closing and installed an electric stove that was donated. We also installed an American Flag that brought them to tears when we pulled up at the house after closing. Richard looked at me and said, “You know, I’m not used to being on the receiving end of things like this.” That struck a chord. The night prior as we drove out there, Sean said something to effect of, “Their generation just gives and gives and gives. It’s nice to see them getting something for a change!”

We are now working on getting a new battery for the old riding lawn mower the seller left behind. Richard “can’t wait to get on that bad boy!”

Selling a home to Richard and Connie was more than just selling a home. It brought me back to center. It reminded me of what I get to do every day and what an honor it is to help families realize their dreams. Such an oddity today…A 70’ish young couple moving from a retirement community into a home. I’m honored that I got to be a part of their American Dream. In the last 45 days, I’ve also realized that so many times during real estate transactions, we only focus on the numbers; what’s on paper; what’s the bottom line. In an effort to save time, we depend on emails, electronic signatures, endless texts and every time-saving shortcut we can. With Richard and Connie, there were no short cuts. As much as I love how fast paced my career is, I stand reminded of why I love what I do…it’s the connection I make with my clients. You can’t get that connection through an email or an electronic signature. The hours I spent face-to-face with them is priceless. This entire transaction has been priceless. Thank God while rushing around my hotel room in San Francisco, I decided to answer my phone….

Congratulations Richard and Connie!  An American Dream for an American Hero!

*This blog was reprinted from ChristianZSellsKC.

Christian Zarif is with Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate in Overland Park, Kan. Connect with Christian at about.me/czsellskc.

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Comments 18

  1. Thank you. Your article brought tears to my eyes. It also reminded me how much I love this job, I am working with an elderly woman who has no technology and no car. I have loved the time I spend with her. No technology means going to be with her every time something needs signing. I find it to be a blessing and time to recharge my spirit. I thank you for your kindness and your loving spirit and for being a shining example of what a Realtor is or should be.

  2. Christian, I have never been prouder to hear a story like this. You represent the highest ideals of being a Realtor and as a vet, I thank you for taking the time for someone who has sacrificed so much for our country. When you gave them such service, you in essence, did it on behalf of Realtors everywhere. I am thrilled with your story and will be reading it at our next office meeting.

  3. Thank you for sharing this wonderful and uplifting story! It made me remember why I love my job and for all those days when you think no one appreciates what we do as Realtors, just one “Richard and Connie” story make it all worth while.

  4. What a wonderful heart felt story. Thank you for sharing Richard and Connie’s story. I hope many Realtors listen to the heart of your story and get back to the people part of our profession.

  5. Great story! I’m not surprised at how you handled the situation and treated Richard and Connie. You are a true professional and caring person. Thanks for sharing your story.

  6. Thank you for sharing your story Christian. Often times we get so wrapped up in things we do forget the people we are here to help and how they need us. Your story was so moving. It challenges me to be a better person in all aspects of my life. To be given the gift of a phone call providing you with an opportunity to help someone that needs it and get paid too!! What a blessing. Most look at the $ and not at the service of helping someone. To do the right thing as if no one is watching. God bless you and your career of helping people. You made me proud to be a Realtor® and to serve people. What a fantastic opportunity we have to give back!! Thank you again!!

  7. What a wonderful story. I hope it opens the eyes of many real estate agents who get caught up in what is in it for them vs. how they can serve the public. Making people’s dreams come true is the best part of being a real estate agent.

  8. .Inspiring story to start the day. At first, the length of the article was rather discouraging but the very first paragraph and something spacial in your eyes captured my attention and then my heart. Thank you! You’re a talented writer as well.

  9. Christian,

    Your heart-warming story brought tears to my eyes. You have truly “paid it forward”. With all the “high tech” we deal with each day, it is so wonderful to see the rewards for using “high touch”. The reward of helping people like Richard and Connie realize their dream has got to be extremely special for you, and I thank you for reminding all of us that this is really a “people” business. What a caring person and professional! thank you for sharing this wonderful story.

  10. Hi Christian! Thank you so much for sharing this story! I cried through most of it! I am touched by your giving spirit and how you kept the right attitude through it all. What an honor to help this couple buy a home! I am so glad that you took the time to help them get approved for the loan and also spearheaded the effort to find someone to donate an electric stove. God will bless you for that! Your maintenance contractor was a saint for installing it for them. I’m sure that he will be blessed too. Because of this story, I am reminded of my dream to purchase homes, equip them with ramps, hardwood flooring, etc. making them accessible, and renting them to veterans. I need to make that happen! Thanks for being such an inspiration! I hope that many Realtors will read your story and be blessed and inspired by it! I know I have been! 🙂

  11. A wonderful and heartfelt story. It brought tears to my eyes and felt your buyers gratitude towards you and you with them. Thanks for sharing to remind me that in our career of real estate we are part of people’s lives and this is all about building relationships not just selling houses. Thank you !!

  12. I am very happy to see that you also view your job as a service! Treating others as you would like to be treated will get you far in life and is good for the soul! I try to honor that motto as well and see my job as a service to borrowers, not sales!
    Great job!

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