Skydweller's Musings

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A Phrase That Doesn’t Belong in Business (or in life)

 Pamela (aka Sky­d­weller) is an ana­lyst (dubbed by her hus­band as a Quan­ti­ta­tively Tran­scen­dent Pul­chri­tudi­nous Infor­mat­ics Execu­tor) and writer. Her inter­ests and hob­bies include busi­ness, research, analy­sis, real estate con­sult­ing, mar­ket­ing, psy­chol­ogy, process improve­ment, read­ing, writ­ing, and sculpt­ing. Read more from this author

Go Jump in a Lake!

Would you miss a good jump in the lake just because some­one told you it was too cold?

“I was told…”

Really, you were? How’s that work­ing for you?

When do you hear this phrase used? I gen­er­ally hear it when some­thing isn’t working.Why on earth would any­one say, “I was told”? It’s like say­ing, “I decided to turn my brain off and replace it with some­one else’s” or “I didn’t have any con­fi­dence in myself and what one per­son says is just as good as another even if one is the trainer and the other is the guy who was in my train­ing class and well, he’s kind of cute and has worked in 5 restau­rants in the last three months so he must know a whole lot” or how about this: “I’m tired and I don’t want to make any waves so what­ever way the wind blows I’m just going to go with it.”

Here are a few sce­nar­ios to ponder:

In the restau­rant business:

Sue, why are you using water to clean the ketchup lids? Are we out of vine­gar?” And Sue responds with some­thing like, “Well, I was told it didn’t mat­ter…”

Really? I’m think­ing. Who told you that?

And the lit­tle voice in my brain goes on unheard by Sue:

“so, despite two weeks of server train­ing includ­ing the test ques­tion about why we use vine­gar instead of water to clean our ketchup bot­tles and lids and the bot­tle of fer­mented ketchup your trainer pro­vided for a whiff of that acrid aroma our cus­tomers don’t return for over and over and the explod­ing ketchup bot­tle demon­stra­tion and the infor­ma­tion con­veyed to you that water in ketchup can lead to fer­men­ta­tion and did you miss the launch of stinky tomato goo that emit­ted from the bubble-filledbottle,hitthewall,andlandedrightonBarty’snoseandeveryoneburstoutlaughinghowonearthcouldyouNOTrememberthat…”

While I say, “Well, Sue, please use vine­gar now and going for­ward. Using water can lead to fer­men­ta­tion, mak­ing the ketchup smell bad, taste yucky, and if the pres­sure builds up too much ketchup will spray every­where — the con­tents “explode” — when the bot­tle is opened.”

In Real Estate:

Mr. and Mrs. Seller, why do you object to my plac­ing a lock­box so that other Real­tors can show your prop­erty more eas­ily?” And Mr. and Mrs. Seller respond with some­thing like, “Well, I was told it wouldn’t help us sell any faster and we don’t want just any­one walk­ing in any time they want. Plus, it’ll dam­age the doorknob.”

Really? Are you kid­ding me? These peo­ple are jok­ing, right? Please???

So I say, “Will you share with me who gave you that information?”

And the sell­ers say, “Well our neigh­bor just moved here from Hous­ton and told us that peo­ple were , and he said very few of the peo­ple he knew there used lock­boxes and the ones who didn’t sold their houses with no prob­lem. He told us that houses were sell­ing all the time and peo­ple weren’t hav­ing any trou­ble get­ting higher prices than they paid.” Nope, they’re not kid­ding. Wow. And the lit­tle voice in my brain goes on unheard by the sell­ers:

“so, after 8 months on the mar­ket and two Real­tors — me being the poten­tial third — you’re mak­ing an assump­tion based on your neighbor’s assump­tion that houses don’t sell any bet­ter on lock­box because he told you so and because things were mov­ing well in Hous­ton. Well, folks, the truth is that while much of the nation has been in a real estate decline, Hous­ton is just a wee bit spe­cial in that they had this thing called HURRICANE IKE that inter­rupted the mar­ket, delay­ing many trans­ac­tion. Added to that was the $8,000 first time home­buyer credit, result­ing in an over 10% increase in prices com­bined with over 5% increase in sales. List­ings with­out lock­boxes may very well have sold quickly and made a profit in that kind of mar­ket, but it’s not only pos­si­ble but likely that many did not achieve the best pos­si­ble price because their mar­kets were lim­ited to buy­ers and Real­tors who had and were will­ing to take the time to: set an appoint­ment, pick up a key, get to the non-lockbox houses at the appointed time(s), then return the key. Hmmm, now, let’s see…

Let’s say, just for a moment, that you’re a real estate sales­per­son. Really, it’s ok. I’ll respect you in the morn­ing. It’s not like I’m ask­ing you to pre­tend to be a lawyer. Ready? Ok. You’re a real estate sales­per­son (hang in there!) and you earn money by attract­ing buy­ers and sell­ers and pro­duc­ing sales. Care to guess how many homes buy­ers look at before choos­ing one?




Are you shu­u­u­u­ure (said Cousin Vinny style)?



Ok, now, you’re still a real estate sales­per­son (yeah, I know, sorry for your luck there), and for each sale to a buyer, you need to show an aver­age of fif­teen houses. The median home price in my area, for exam­ple, is $130,000. For each $130,000 home sold, the real estate sales­per­son makes around $3900 gross. From that $3900 comes mar­ket­ing, desk, Board of Real­tors, train­ing, bro­ker, and other fees: a siz­able chunk. Then usu­ally higher insur­ance pre­mi­ums (higher car insur­ance cov­er­age is gen­er­ally required, and often where the vol­ume of par­tic­i­pants in a large com­pany might drive down other insur­ance rates, that bet­ter pric­ing does not often extend into the inde­pen­dent con­trac­tors’ mar­kets. So let’s say you end up with about $1500 of that $3900. In order to man­tain your home, a nice car for dri­ving buy­ers around in, enter­tain, have the per­fect hair and wardrobe, per­haps pay for your assis­tant, and other things com­mon to real estate sales­peo­ple, you need to sell at least three houses per month. Sta­tis­ti­cally, you need to show 45 houses plus have time for clos­ings, admin­is­tra­tive and mar­ket­ing tasks, com­mu­nity events, etc. Many buy­ers are rar­ing to go and want to see every­thing ASAP! Or they’ll spot a list­ing, call you, and want to go in and take a look ASAP! And you know, hav­ing seen and expe­ri­enced it too many times, that if you’re not ready to jump when that buyer calls, they’ll call whomever can get them into that house.… ASAP!

On the other side of the coin, when you set up a tour for buy­ers, you have a sched­ule to jug­gle. Theirs, yours, and any spe­cial instruc­tions from the list­ing agents of homes being viewed. Now, let’s say you’re a real estate sales­per­son (It’ll be over soon, I promise), and you’ve got 5 houses to show in a day. Plus you have a clos­ing at 4pm. And your hus­band wants you home for din­ner, and after ditch­ing the hus­band and kids at din­ner for the past three nights you’re going to make darn sure you’re present. With each house show­ing (includ­ing dri­ving dis­tance, etc.) eat­ing up 1–1.5 hours on aver­age, you need to move-move-move to ensure you get through five in time to make your closing.

So, here’s the ques­tion. You have fif­teen houses that may be can­di­dates for your buy­ers. Three require 24 hours advance appoint­ment and you must pick up the key at the list­ing bro­kers office. Cross those three off right now, because you have about 2 hours before you need to start show­ing, so there’s no way to give 24 hours notice. Then there are three with appoint­ments required, only one hour notice, again you must pick up the key. Two on lock­box, appoint­ment required. Four that require call ahead but no appoint­ment, and finally three that are “go shows” (no appoint­ment, no call-ahead) on lock­box. How are you going to plan your day? Yes, you’re going to select the best homes for your buy­ers that are avail­able for show. Except for two you can­not reach by phone that require an appoint­ment, you have to take those off your list. That leaves you with ten homes. You call the four call-aheads, take your buy­ers, and go. Dri­ving by two of the call-aheads, the buy­ers dis­miss on curb appeal. You visit the other two. What’s left? You have three houses that you can drive over to and unlock for your buy­ers with­out fur­ther delay. No appoint­ments, no call aheads, no pick­ing up keys. Which of these expe­ri­ences is going to be favored in the future? It’s just human nature to pre­fer the path of least resis­tance, and the result is that homes stated as “go show” on lock­box trump other types of show­ings, get more view­ings, and have more oppor­tu­ni­ties for higher price due to vis­i­bil­ity and com­pet­i­tive bidding.

So, the facts and your own check­ing along with some cause-effect think­ing result in a real­iza­tion hav­ing a lock­box on a prop­erty in this neigh­bor­hood — your prop­erty — will greatly increase the oppor­tu­ni­ties for show­ing your home thereby increas­ing your mar­ket expo­sure and poten­tially bring­ing a higher price. What you were told was fac­tu­ally incor­rect, illog­i­cal, and had you fol­lowed the advice you could have lost sig­nif­i­cant time and money.

Peo­ple who say “I was told” are cop­ping out. It’s an excuse, and a bad one at that.

Here are some phrases that par­al­lel with “I was told”:

I was told = I am lazy

Rather than remem­ber, fol­low instruc­tions, or think autonomously, this per­son is just going through the motions. They’re being lazy. If “I was told” was a virtue, then robots could just han­dle all our func­tions. Humans are not robots, and (qual­i­fier here!) employ­ers who value think­ing employ­ees nei­ther hire, pro­mote, nor retain work­ers with an “I was told” approach.

There are, how­ever for­tu­nately or unfor­tu­nately, many employ­ers per­fectly sat­is­fied with this men­tal­ity, which really helps alle­vi­ate the guilt of set­ting an “I was told” employee free to find that per­fect match. I was told and I agree that or so I was told…

I was told = I refuse to accept real­ity and I like yours bet­ter anyway

As in the case of the sell­ers, peo­ple accept other people’s opin­ions with­out think­ing about them crit­i­cally. Check­ing the facts, the real­is­tic results of the actions or behav­iors, and the real effort and con­se­quences of them is so impor­tant, yet many peo­ple don’t bother.

In the case of the restau­rant server who used water to clean the ketchup bot­tles, she may have saved some time since the water was hand­ier. She may also have saved the annoy­ance of smelling stinky vine­gar. But the cost for that “sav­ings” is dis­pro­por­tion­ate: explod­ing ketchup is yucky, requires a big cleanup, and is off-putting to customers.

I was told = The per­son who told me is smarter than I am or knows some­thing I don’t

Not nec­es­sar­ily! Peo­ple — all peo­ple — are human (to the best of our cur­rent knowl­edge, any­way <insert cheeky smile>). Doc­tors, min­is­ters, teach­ers, par­ents, etc. make huge mis­takes all the time. You have to trust your­self and your abil­ity to iden­tify fact vs. opin­ion, prob­a­bil­ity, motive, etc. It is imper­a­tive to raise kids with the abil­ity to do this.

If a teacher tells your kid that one reli­gion is the true one, do you want your kid to take their word for it? What if the teacher is telling her that Sci­en­tol­ogy is the only true reli­gion? Pagan­ism? Wicca? Bap­tist? Catholic?

If a teacher tells your child that evo­lu­tion is a myth, do you want her to believe this?

If a teacher tells your child that cre­ation­ism is a myth, do you want him to believe this?

If a min­is­ter tells your child she will receive eter­nal pun­ish­ment for lying, do you want her to believe this? What hap­pens some­day if a guy won’t leave her alone and she can­not lie and say her dad is on his way, or that she called the police, etc.?

I was told = Dan­ger­ous, even lethal

If an older kid tells your child that stick­ing his tongue to a frozen pole is fun and won’t hurt him, do you want your child to believe her?

If a stranger tells your child that he has hurt puppy needs your child’s help, do you want your child to believe what he is being told and get in the car with him?

If a cab dri­ver takes you down a strange alley and tells you it’s a short­cut to the air­port but every instinct you have tells you some­thing is wrong, are you going to believe what he says or start tak­ing some pro­tec­tive action?

You see, we don’t always get to choose the influ­ences thrust upon us; we can only choose to learn and to teach our chil­dren how to intel­li­gently eval­u­ate our options and act accord­ingly. Fail­ure to do so can be life shattering.

Tips for avoid­ing “I was told“ness

Raise your lev­els of aware­ness, crit­i­cal think­ing, and suc­cess by being mind­ful of the fol­low­ing sim­ple tips.

Ques­tion what you’re told

Is it factual?

Does using a lock­box affect the sale of a home?
Get your own answers. Check real estate web­sites, con­tact a cou­ple of rep­utable Real­tors, look for hard num­bers, espe­cially locally. Ask peo­ple who have suc­cess­fully sold their homes.

Is it true?

Does using a lock­box affect the sale of a home?
The facts will answer this. It is true that a lock­box affects the speed and there­fore can affect the price of a home. Whether the effect is ben­e­fi­cial depends upon the type of prop­erty, neigh­bor­hood, con­di­tion, local pro­fes­sion­als, local rules, the local mar­ket, and so on. Gen­er­ally speak­ing (and speak­ing from expe­ri­ence), using a lock­box is secure and effec­tive, results in more show­ings, and thereby results in a faster sale and bet­ter price for your home. Don’t just take my word for it; check it out.

What is the conveyer’s motive?

Hmmm… Why did the new neigh­bor from Hous­ton tell me lock­boxes didn’t help sell homes?
Did he want to sup­port my hes­i­tance for hav­ing a lock­box?
Did he want to seem knowl­edge­able?
Did he have dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances that led to atyp­i­cal results?

What is rel­e­vant to my situation?

List your pri­or­i­ties
1. I must sell this house
2. I need to sell quickly
3. I need the high­est pos­si­ble price
4. I work full time
5. I have a good Realtor

Then match your pri­or­i­ties with the best answer for your sit­u­a­tion:
1. My house will get more show­ings if it is on lock­box because any Real­tor can show it at any time
2. More show­ings = more poten­tial buy­ers = more oppor­tu­ni­ties for offers
3. More oppor­tu­ni­ties for offers = more com­pe­ti­tion = poten­tial for high­est mar­ket price
4. Not hav­ing to be home for show­ings will save me time, stress, and the Real­tor says it’s bet­ter when the seller is not there any­way because the buy­ers can bet­ter imag­ine the home as theirs. A lock­box would pre­vent me from hav­ing to take appoint­ment calls or be home for show­ings unless I wanted to be.
5. My Real­tor spe­cial­izes in home sales in my area, has been around for years, and has a good rep­u­ta­tion. Her advice regard­ing the ben­e­fits of using a lock­box com­bined with my own fact check­ing con­firm that this is the best option for me.

A Real Estate Story

With respect to the real estate sce­nario, I will share one of many expe­ri­ences with you about crit­i­cal think­ing (and a lit­tle about using a lockbox):

What I was told

Even after show­ing the first Real­tor the local com­pa­ra­bles (very hard to find for this prop­erty), he insisted there was no way in heck I would be able to sell it for more than $55,000 at best, and even if I could, it wouldn’t appraise that high. Other than the fact that noth­ing within that sub­di­vi­sion had ever sold above around $60,000 or so, he did not really have a lot of facts to sub­stan­ti­ate his argument.

What I did

The results (facts can be ver­i­fied at the prop­erty appraiser’s web­site)

  1. Time from pur­chase to resale: 2.5 years
    • Pur­chased: 5/2002
    • Sold: 9/2004
  2. Profit: $30,000
    • Pur­chase price: $45,000
    • Sold price: $75,000
  3. Time on mar­ket: about 2 months
    • Listed date: around 8/2004
    • Sold date: 9/2004

The 1 bed­room condo sold for a $30,000 gross profit after being owned only a cou­ple of years. It appraised suc­cess­fully. It sold eas­ily for at least $10,000-$15,000 than the sec­ond high­est price pre­vi­ously achieved in those units.The buyer was thrilled. The sell­ers were thrilled. The Real­tor was a bit shell-shocked (and, I might add, received a larger com­mis­sion due to the higher sales price).

The moral of this story? The most impor­tant thing about this sit­u­a­tion was that — had I just gone with what I was told — the elderly home­own­ers would have missed out on a fair profit that was of sub­stan­tial help to them in some health crises. It also enabled them to have some free­dom in where they were able to reside next as opposed to being forced into low income hous­ing. Ques­tion­ing what I was told impacted their lives, the buyer’s life, and my own.

That was a lot of work!

Con­clud­ing that crit­i­cal think­ing takes a lot of work depends upon whether you look at only the begin­ning of the pic­ture or the whole pic­ture. By being proac­tive and front end load­ing (so to speak) the effort, you can save an expo­nen­tially greater amount of time, effort, and even money over­all. In the real estate exam­ple, a few hours of research impacted three or more lives for years in areas like income, peace of mind, choices and oppor­tu­ni­ties, resources for han­dling a cri­sis, and long-term sta­bil­ity. A pretty huge return for just a few hours of extra work.

Crit­i­cal think­ing, ques­tion­ing, and fact check­ing require effort. The ques­tion of whether or not the effort is pro­por­tional is answered by look­ing at the big pic­ture: Is the pay­off was worth the effort? What’s the return on invest­ment (ROI)? Would you be bet­ter off going with what you were told?

On a final note, while it can ini­tially take quite a bit of effort to develop the skills, crit­i­cal think­ing and analy­sis do become eas­ier with time and practice.

Or so I was told…

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Posted by on January 10, 2010.

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Categories: business, Joy, Life, LinkedIn, Philosophy, Real Estate

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