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.