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Up or Down

I went on a listing appointment yesterday.

The home was attractive but modest with a nice location, a simple one-bedroom condo in Pacific Palisades not far from the ocean. The stylish elderly woman who lived there graciously invited me in with a refined Peruvian accent and offered me a glass of guava pineapple juice.

As a former storyteller, there is nothing I love more than meeting new people and hearing about their lives. I asked questions with genuine curiosity and, perhaps sensing my sincere interest, the woman opened up about her circumstances.

Money, she confessed, was the reason she had to sell. A recent special assessment by her condominium complex, a considerable sum, had made her realize she could no longer afford to live there.

Then something changed in her eyes and her smile tightened as this proud woman admitted the thing that had obviously been pressing on her mind. She was afraid. Embarrassed. Feeling shame. Because now, at the age of seventy, on a fixed retirement income and having called this place home for nearly twenty years, she had no idea where to go next.

Hearing this broke my heart. It also made me reflect on an insight I had soon after I got into real estate: all buyers and sellers fall into one of two categories.

Either they are on their way up or they are on their way down.

For the lucky ones, life is good. Their earning power is increasing. They’re feeling invincible. Typically they are experiencing the elation of buying their first home or, even more impressive, are trading up to a larger house.

The less fortunate ones have been dealt a blow by life, either all at once or, often more painful, over an extended period of time. A lost job. A divorce. Health problems. A death. Whatever the particular circumstances, they are being forced to downsize and can feel themselves sliding into the unknown which often causes a whole raft of other problems, both practical and psychological.

What is fascinating and ironic – and so typical of this wonderful, painful opera we call life – is that these two types often converge in the same transaction. A buyer on the way up may be purchasing a house from a seller on the way down.

Not only that, it’s cyclical. Which means almost everyone who lives a full life can expect to experience both an up and a down, and often several of each.

That’s why it takes a special kind of understanding and empathy on the part of a good real estate agent to help navigate these converging tides.

I try to remember that every time I talk to new clients. Because it’s quite possible that one day, perhaps through no fault on my own, I may find myself walking in their shoes.