Vickie Leonard

Vickie Leonard

A weeklong electronic journal.
July 23 1999 6:16 PM

Vickie Leonard

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The A.s signed their mortgage papers and will get keys to their elegant new home Friday. The sale of their home closes next week. Agents who had never seen the grand house decided that it sat too close to apartments and never told their buyers about it. A wise broker once said: "Agents don't decide for the buyers. Let them see the house. They will make the decision. People who insist they need a garage buy garageless homes every day." My Kansas City brother always insisted that he would never buy a house without a screened porch, then did.

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W. and B. are on their way to preapproval on a VA mortgage. One of the two Seattle women, B. and G., who are buying a second home together, saw the house with the koi pond and loved it. She figured out the turtle was fake. Friday, I'll take both to see it.

A New Yorker asked me what I, as a Realtor, thought of Independence Day, which has a Realtor as its key character. Aghast that I not even heard of, let alone read, the book by Richard Ford, a Pulitzer Prize winner, I ordered it immediately. I pride myself on being well read, even if most of my reading falls in the category currently called "literature."

Realtors get no respect. Almost no one portrays us as competent service providers except wonderful Margaret Atwood in The Robber Bride. She wrote one very favorable line. Consider Joe Pesci in the Lethal Weapon movies or Marian Colby on the TV soap All My Children. Realtors are greedy, superficial, and opportunistic. That's not me or my office. But I certainly meet agents who see the dollar first, last, and always, overlooking the people, clients, and co-workers.

Independence Day did reflect some realty reality. Ford knew that a Realtor's car trunk is always loaded with signs. His character, Bascombe, invests in property. Ford captured the indecisive, unpleasant client.

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But Bascombe's approach felt wrong. He says to homebuyers, "Shop around for a mortgage. Get a foundation inspection. Don't budget more than you can pay. Buy low sell high. The rest isn't really my business." It's an accurate summary of Real Estate 101. We agents, however, help clients understand how that information actually affects people's own situation.

Bascombe didn't return clients' phone calls (resulting in a lost sale!), put his homebuyers in a rental (wrong!), and seriously lacked the requisite motivation. As a parent, Bascombe was also a failure. Disconnected from his daughter, he didn't insist his teen-age son wear protective gear in the batting cage (resulting in a serious eye injury).

Thinking of Independence Day always reminds me of my dear friend Tim. In the book, Curtain Call is a group that provides theater tickets for people with fatal diseases. See, a fatal disease means the ending of life, and the end of the play is the curtain call. The sophomoric theater joke arises when Ford cavalierly writes about Curtain Call's director taking the Lou Gehrig patients to the theater. Lou Gehrig's, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is the muscular degenerative disease that eats at Tim and in its own way at his children, his wife, and his sister-in-law, who put her life on hold to come and care for the children.

Tim was 48 and jogging regularly when his ALS began. Tim and Ana were the golden couple with three great kids. They made time to help everyone. Tim changed diapers, loaded the dishwasher, and was the kind of father every kid should have. When Ana's soccer team played on Mother's Day, the team members asked their husbands to provide food. Other husbands brought doughnuts; Tim baked a quiche from scratch. Now, with his good hand, he moves about in his nifty, computerized wheelchair.

The Realtors' reality may be misunderstood. That pales, though, in comparison to the distorted reality of caregivers and the miniaturization of their burden by our culture. Insurers avoid paying for in-home care. And caretaking is relentless. Getting Tim ready every morning requires an hour of hard physical work; he resembles a human-sized bag of potatoes. He can't be left alone, because his breathing could go awry. Sometimes he awakens three times a night needing to be moved. A theater excursion with an ALS group would be a major undertaking.

Reading Independence Day made me quietly fume about what passes for literature today. Being at my friends' house, however, easing their burden, makes me happy. If only more friends would provide dinners, take a child on an excursion, or help another caregiver, they would become less scared of death and more appreciative of life. Tim still teases me relentlessly, even with his breathing mask. I advise him, as his personal Realtor, to buy at least one condo for each of his three school-age kids. In fact, I point out, I just happen to know what's available.