| Family Diary |

Close to Home: Chapter 6 

            But this wasn’t about the numbers; it was about a warped mindset


Nechama Norman with Batsheva Berman

Want to know what a person’s really like? Chazal tell us there are three ways to see behind the smooth façade: b’kiso, b’kaaso, ub’koso —how he handles money, what happens when he’s angry, and how he acts when drunk. (I’ve heard people add b’carpoolo; if you know, you know.)

I’ve seen people in all those situations, and it’s been enlightening (and at times, frightening).

George and Lydia Mendoza* lived around the corner from me. They were the original homeowners, meaning they’d bought it when it was first built, and it had gone up tremendously in value. They didn’t even realize how much.

They signed me on as their agent. I told them what I thought he could sell for. George was dubious; his highest dream figure was lower than that.

“I know this area very well,” I assured him. “You can get this.”

Sure enough, I soon found a seller happy to pay that price. I wanted to tell the Mendozas in person — and get a contract signed quickly. I called and asked if I could come over.

“Sure,” Lydia said, “we’re in the backyard, just come through the back.”

Two minutes later I was there with my iPad. At that point, we were in the process of moving from paper to digital; my husband assured me I could figure it out.

The backyard was magnificent: a sparkling pool, a wooden gazebo, flowering shrubs.

“What can I get you to drink?” asked Lydia.

“Just water.”

A few minutes later, she came out with a bottle of wine, several glasses, and a beer. George popped open the beer and Lydia had a glass of wine. I announced the great news: we’d gotten our asking price, more than they’d hoped for! They both whooped and clinked their glasses. I fiddled with my iPad, trying to figure out how to access the document I needed.

I really needed my husband, who had already mastered the system, but he was in the middle of bedtime. I also didn’t want to leave without getting the contract signed, so I needed to buy time. We were schmoozing, and I complimented them on their roses.

George got a second beer and Lydia poured a third glass. I kept texting my husband, Can you come? I need your help here, but he wasn’t responding.

The couple got giggly. George opened his third beer. Lydia finished the bottle. They took out some pretzels.

“Are these kosher?” George asked, then started laughing uproariously. “Are they Jewish pretzels? Are they?”

I called my husband. “Hi, Avi,” I said, “I’m the only sober one here, and we need a little help with the contract…”

My husband gasped. “I’m coming right over.”

The Mendozas thought it was hysterical when he showed up. “Is it curfew? Your husband came to pick you up?”

I didn’t care. My husband had that contract signed within minutes — they’d already agreed to all the terms in earlier conversations — and then he escorted me home.

I rarely see my clients drunk — after that incident, as soon as they bring out the corkscrew, I get my papers signed and skedaddle. But I’ve seen plenty of tempers flare.

Jack Stewart called me when he wanted to put his house up for sale. While he lived in a row of identical houses built by the same contractor, he’d opted for many upgrades — there were French windows in the living room, an ornate mosaic in the entrance, and ornate faucets in the bathroom. Most of these little touches were pretty but not practical, yet they gave the house an air of elegance.

It was hard to price the house, but I made a solid estimate based on my extensive knowledge of the neighborhood and the going rates. We got lucky, and ended up netting even more for the house.

Happy with my service, Jack referred me to his neighbor, Cora Ortiz. While the exterior of the homes looked similar, inside, Cora had kept the basic version without a single upgrade. I suggested that we price it at $15,000 lower than I’d priced his. She agreed, and we put it on the market.

That evening, I got a call from Jack. He was screaming hysterically. “You undersold my house! How dare you! Do you know how much I poured into it? How can you suggest that Cora’s house is worth only $15k less?”

I took a deep breath, then pitched my voice low. When people start screaming, I get very quiet; it keeps the conversation from spiraling.

First, I validated him. When people are angry, they need to be heard. They don’t want to hear your defense; they want to be told that their gripes make sense (even if they don’t).

“This must have been really upsetting,” I told Jack. “You put so many beautiful touches into your house, and you feel like it wasn’t valued enough. That’s tough.”

Then I reminded him that what we ask for and what we get are often vastly different. In his case, we’d gotten more than the asking price. With his neighbor, we were setting a higher asking price — but we didn’t know if we’d find anyone willing to pay it. It was just a dream price, not a reflection of the ultimate value of each home.

Eventually, he calmed down.

And Cora ended up getting $35k less than he did. Which, I suspected, made him thrilled.

And then there’s b’kiso.

Yona and Vivi Elkin both worked hard. Yona was a CPA and Vivi ran a successful home business.

I’m respectful of people’s finances. Whatever their budget is, that’s the budget I’ll work with. And in order to get a clear picture of the finances, I always ask if I can speak to their mortgage lender. The Elkins had told me their budget was not a penny over $700,000, so I was surprised when Cynthia, the mortgage lender, whispered, “Listen, I know they’re saying only 700k, but between you and me, they can swing more than that.”

I kept it in mind, yet made sure to stay in the range they wanted. Soon I noticed a pattern. Every house I showed them, no matter how much they liked it, fell apart over money. Vivi found problems with every deal, nixed every contract.

As I got to know the couple, I learned that Vivi had grown up in a family that just never had enough money —and she was determined that her children would grow up in comfort. She simply could not part with her money, even for something she desperately needed.

They lost one house over $5k. When you’re talking about a mortgage, $5k translates into just a few dollars a month. But this wasn’t about the numbers; it was about a warped mindset.

The Elkins lost over 20 houses. Prices began rising significantly, and when Vivi realized she’d have to shell out even more if she didn’t sign on the dotted line soon, that enabled her to get past the emotional block.

She’d finally learned that you need to own your money rather than having your money own you.

to be continued…

*All names and details have been changed


Keyed In

When people are spending a lot of money on something, the purchase becomes emotional. Any professional selling such a product should remember that when a client gets upset, it’s usually not about you. Don’t get defensive; stay detached and empathetic.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 804)

Oops! We could not locate your form.