This blog post will argue that traveling in Chinese countries is like being a new homebuyer.
I like to say that being a real estate agent is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. As such, there are good and bad things and many things that are neither good nor bad. They just are. You cannot bend the will and the whim of the real estate market to your needs and goals. On the contrary, you have to conform to the market and the realities that it offers.
That is a long and involved way of saying that one of the perks of being a real estate agent is the opportunity of getting away and travelling for a few weeks in the wintertime. (I’ve actually been trying to stretch that into a couple of months as a traveller/digital nomad). I’m not bragging. I’m conforming to the market. I’m still working while away, just remotely. Not nothing but near nothing happens in December and January. Sure there are sales and there are new client inquiries. But the level of activity that takes place daily in the spring market takes place over a week or longer in the dead of winter, so why not go away. Work expands to fill time. Even when days are at their shortest, I find that I can’t fill them with meaningful and revenue-producing real estate work. So I go away. For the greater good, I go away.
Being a realtor is like being a farmer. What do farmers do all winter?
In 2015, I was traveling in Vietnam and Cambodia. This year, it was Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
How a good long trip for me is good for my real estate clients
Lifestyle is a routine
Anyone who has been in the same job for a decade, gets into a routine. We get comfortable doing the same things in the same ways. Traveling breaks you out of that. The 12 or 15 hour plane ride to southeast Asia in itself with the added resulting jet lag shakes you out of that. You arrive disoriented and tired. You wake up at three in the morning and suddenly enjoy afternoon naps.
This is a lot like a starting out as a home buyer. On the surface, all is normal, but really underneath it all, most homebuyers are discombobulated. Arriving in a new town is disorientating. Homebuyers often contact me asking about neighbourhoods and schools and they have innocent, somewhat naive and sometimes unsophisticated questions about what to expect. They don’t know what to expect, just like me arriving in Macau – a weird, lost in the lassitudes of a mostly forgotten time-place. It has the most dystopian feeling of a place. I have a good idea of the history, but not the reality of the place. “I am completely out of my element,” I think. I don’t understand the language, the traffic, the food or the culture. It’s a bladerunner backwater with European architecture, Vegas gambling houses, Korean and Chinese tourists and both Cantonese and Portuguese food.
New clients might start with, “I want a three-bedroom house in a good neighbourhood”.
“Ok”, I say, “let me ask you a few questions to see if I can help narrow that down a bit”.
Thats where we start.
Let’s get focused.
Let’s narrow down the focus.
Buying a home is actually finding your lifestyle
Do you like to be able to walk down the street for a cup of coffee? Do you like running? Is a 20-minute commute to the office going to make you crazy? Hobbies? Some people have so many and such great hobbies, but hobbies take up space, as do kids and dogs and cars and working from home. These are all ‘lifestyle’ – the style of your life.
Looking at a map in Macau (because we didn’t have internet access) we struggled to find a Macanese restaurant, a coffee shop and most of the sites to see. Orienteering is hard when you don’t speak any of the languages, you don’t know anything or anybody. We just got off the boat from Hong Kong. I suppose this is why while most homebuyers start out on their home buying journey alone, they quickly find a real estate agent to help guide their search. We could have used a guide, for sure.
We start out thinking but we end up feeling
Travelling not only breaks you out of your comfortable routines but also give you a good long glimpse into how others live. In Hong Kong, our airbnb flat was on the 7th floor of a building in Causeway Bay. There was no elevator. On a daily basis, you have to consider, “do I really want to pop down to the street for a cup of coffee?” And, “is there anything we need before we go home for the night?” … that sort of thing that you otherwise take for granted if you had an elevator.
And then you think, “how did they get that refrigerator up here? And the sofa?”
For homebuyers, when they are just getting started, they don’t know how valuable a walkout basement is. They don’t yet realize that an open concept main floor brings people together to hangout around the kitchen counter. Natural light instead of gloomy half-light gives you a completely different feeling.
And feelings are what is really important. That is what this blog post is really all about. We try to be rational, but we are really humans with feelings and we buy homes emotionally (and that we should).
In short, we start out thinking but we end up feeling.
Humility – the best reason to travel
On my recent trip, I spent about three weeks in Taiwan. It is a place I lived for most of the 1990’s. I don’t like to be a tourist there. I want to be a local. I want to go native and I do as best I can even though language holds me back. I studied Mandarin and I got pretty good at it while I was there in the 1990s. Ten years is a long time, but at best I am an intermediate speaker and a lousy reader of Chinese, so I have to put my pride aside. I have to make mistakes and risk being the comic relief for some regular person’s otherwise routine day. I have to make mistakes and I am ok with that. The alternative is stagnation. The alternative is isolation. The alternative is that I am an outsider (a tourist).
Buying a house of course is the same thing. Home buyers have to be emotionally strong enough to ask ‘dumb questions’. (There aren’t any dumb questions). They have to know that they don’t know and they have to be able to share their thoughts and feelings so that they can overcome obstacles in their path to homeownership. Of course, their realtor should nurture and support them through this process.
Homebuyers should understand that good real estate agents do more than book showing appointments and unlock lockboxes. You can go it alone if you want to and there is certainly self-satisfaction to be found in that, but the better way is to have help, professional help.
At the same time, good real estate agents should understand where homebuyers are coming from. They start off logical and skeptical and hopefully mentally ready for the adventure that lies ahead. They end up happy and that is a very good place to end – emotionally.
And that is why I like travelling and hanging around in foreign cities. It is good for me and it is good for my real estate clients.
Besides, travelling is my hobby and everyone needs a hobby, right