You might think this has become a transactional world, where important decisions are made solely on the basis of price. It certainly might look like that, especially in the wild San Francisco Bay real estate market where housing prices are at an all time high and competition is fierce.
But my experience last month challenges this belief.
I moved from the east coast to the San Francisco Bay area last summer. It was a big move to leave a community I’ve been part of for over 30 years; but all of my family had migrated out west over the years and I wanted to be closer to them.
I took a temporary rental in a lovely neighborhood near my cousin so I had time to look for a permanent home.
Over the winter I looked sporadically at houses in the neighborhood, but there was very little on the market and those that were flew off quickly. I hadn’t seen anything I wanted. But in April, just as I was starting to get concerned, my cousin called and said she had seen a house she thought I should take a look at. I went over with her, and to my surprise, the minute I walked into the house I thought, “This is where I want to live.” No doubts. It was absolutely perfect for me – both the house and the neighborhood.
I looked at my cousin and said, “I’m going to make an offer.” I’m not an impulsive person (which explains why it took me so long to move out west), so for me to have such a strong sense that this was the right house is quite unusual.
In the SF Bay Area, the way the housing market works is like an auction. Houses go on the market for about ten days. Bids are due by a deadline on the last day, and the owners then decide which bid to accept.
I put three strong pieces in place.
- A very high bid. I decided to make a very strong offer at the top of the reasonable range. I actually went beyond what I had intended to spend on a house, but I wanted my offer to blow the others away. So I put all my chips on the table and held nothing in reserve.
- All cash. These days about a third of the home sales in the SF area are all cash and the rest are with pre-approved mortgages. I hadn’t completed the mortgage application process yet, and it would take several weeks to be pre-approved so I would be at a disadvantage. But my cousin generously offered to give me a short-term bridge loan until my mortgage was approved. This meant I could make an immediate all cash offer.
- A great letter. The owners had written a letter that was included with the disclosure packet while it was being shown. They were a young couple with two young children. This was their first home. Their letter had talked about how they had fixed it up to be safe and comfortable, how their children had taken their first steps in the house, and how the neighborhood was filled with young families.
Two days before the deadline, I sat on a plane flying to Florida, contemplating what to say. I loved the house, the energy, and everything they had done to fix it up. I want to live in a multi-generational, diverse neighborhood. But it was more than that, and I struggled to name it. Then it struck me – this was their first house and it would be my last house. It was the circle of life. I wrote the letter and was satisfied it had captured my intent.
With these three things in place, I figured I had done everything I could, and the only way I would lose the house would be if someone made an irrational offer.
But that’s exactly what happened. Shortly after the deadline, my real estate agent informed me someone had made an “out-of the ballpark” bid. She invited me to increase my bid, but I had already gone all in and there was nothing I could do.
As consolation, she sent me a link to a new listing.
The turning point.
However, I didn’t open the link. I wasn’t ready to walk away from this house. Instead, I started wondering if there was something else I could offer besides money.
Consulting services? Team building? Facilitating shared vision? None of these seemed like they would appeal.
Then I remembered: I just happen to know a fire chief in the town they are moving to. He reads my blog and has corresponded with me several times over the past few years. I think at one point, the entire fire department subscribed to my blog. I could make an introduction. You never know when having a connection with an official who knows the politics and government systems of your town will come in handy.
What else? I have 4 one ounce American Gold Eagle coins that I had been saving for something special. They’re kind of cool and would be a good thing to have if the financial market collapsed.
I thought of a few more things like: They could stay at the house if they want to come back for visits. I could but down a larger deposit. We could close the next day if they wanted.
I sent the owners an email saying how much I wanted to live in the house, that I had gone beyond my financial means, and listed my alternative ideas.
Relationship currency is the lynchpin.
What I was offering instead of money? Relationship.
- My relationship with their home: I would love their home as much as they did and would take good care of it. And they would be welcome there anytime.
- Their relationship with their new community: I found out later they want to become active in their new community and thought the opportunity to connect with a town official was a great way to start.
To the surprise of the real estate agents, it worked. The owners were deeply touched by my letters. I received a letter from them saying that although they had a higher bid, they felt the house had picked me and they wanted me to have it. They wanted the introduction but took only two of the gold coins (one for each of their children). The alternative currency items were written into the buy-sell agreement, and we closed seven days later.
Three Powerful Lessons
Our beliefs shape our experience.
It is said that experience shapes our beliefs. In fact it is the opposite. Our beliefs shape our experience.
Because I believed that relationship currency is worth more than money, I didn’t just walk away when I found out I had been outbid. Instead, I began to think creatively about alternatives.
If I had a different belief and had given up, I would have had a different experience.
You won’t always get back what you give, but give anyway.
Several years ago I donated several copies of my book Full Steam Ahead! Unleash the Power of Vision to this fire department. I had no expectation of getting something in return and in fact, never mentioned it to anyone. I never would have guessed that my relationship with that fire department would become the lynchpin to buying a home.
People talk about the payoff from investing in relationships; and it’s true, it’s a good idea to nuture relationships. But you never know which relationship is going to “payoff.” It’s possible none will. It’s better to just help people out because it’s the right thing to do, without an expectation that you’ll get something in return.
I have found I am a happier person when I give more than I take and when I can make a difference in another person’s life. And sometimes, just sometimes, what you put out does come back to you from unexpected sources.
Have faith in the potential of the next generation.
This experience has renewed my faith in humanity and in the future that lies in the hands of this next generation – that not all decisions are being made solely on a transactional basis, and that the currency of relationship can be as strong a force as the dollar.
I’ve told this story to many people who have been deeply touched, and I decide to share it more widely. We hear so much about all the things that are going wrong and not enough about the good things. There is much more than I was able to include in a blog post length, and the story keeps unfolding and gets better. I hope this helps show that although it’s easy to focus on negativity because we are bombarded with it, when you look around, you can see there is a lot of goodness and generosity in this world.
Congratulations, Jesse! My brother is buying his first home in NYC Metro and like in SF it’s a bidding war and everything goes over asking price in what seems only minutes. I’ve encouraged him to write a letter to the sellers who are moving their expanding families somewhere new while he and his wife are just starting their own. He was resistant, but it’s so much more meaningful to sell a house to a human being than a number. Our homes become deeply connected to who we are and our stories… so wonderful that these homeowners picked you to continue the chain.
I’m definitely sharing this piece with my brother!
Hi Alli, When we assume something is only a transaction, that’s exactly what it becomes. But as my post shows, it doesn’t have to be that way. I hope my experience and this post is helpful for your brother. Wishing him good luck.
It’s been a long couple of weeks – I read your story as I was shutting work down for the day. I’m glad your story caught my eye. It was the best grownup bedtime story I could ask for. I have a similar story – not exactly as yours but this one brought back a memory and gave me renewed joy. Thanks for sharing.
So glad to hear you had a similar experience, Jane. It’s important to remember them and to share them. As you see, they not only bring us joy, but they bring joy to others as well.
Jesse,this post shows the power of personal connection! This is similar to the way my wife & I purchased our house last year. Making solid connections with people, authentically,will go a long way towards making an impact with people. People don’t make transactions or work with businesses,they do it through people connections.
Great read Jesse. Thanks for sharing!
“People don’t make transactions or work with businesses,they do it through people connections.”
In the end it really is all about people and our relationships with each other. It’s so easy to forget that and depersonalize our experience.
Thanks for adding to the conversation, Paul.
Jesse – What a heart-warming story and an excellent leadership lesson! It is fun to imagine what the next chapters in the story will be! Congratulations! I am so happy you have the perfect home!
Thanks, Chery. One of the next chapters was the previous owners held a neighborhood open house to say good-by and to introduce me. I discovered that my next door neighbor’s mother lives in the same retirement community and is a good friend of one of my dear friends who I had coincidently been visiting on the day I purchased the house. Another chapter is I’ve become friends with the previous owners and look forward to many more chapters.
I love this story. Thank you for sharing. The lessons are memorable. Even more so is the reminder to not give up, to sit back and consider what else is possible before you move on. I will share this with my coaching clients.
Thanks, Marcia. I think there are some good coaching lessons in this, and there’s nothing like a real story to make them come alive.
One of those “Stop what I’m doing & read to the end” stories. “Relationship currency.” I believe you can take that phrase into your practice & help others make a difference in their lives. Congratulations!
Thanks, David. Although we don’t usually think that way, there really are many kinds of currency besides money. One of my friends half-jokingly said this could be the start to redefining the California housing market. That would be nice.
Jesse, It was exciting to be with you as this story was unfolding. It’s also wonderful to see how you have absorbed all the lessons in this experience. This is a blog that will be meaningful to many people. Congratulations as you move into the house that you were meant to have!
Thanks Betsy. I worked on this post for several weeks. It is easy to tell the story in conversation, but not so easy to condense it to a blog length. Glad to hear from someone who was there at the time that this is a good reflection of that experience
Wow! What a very cool story….thank you for sharing it!
So glad you enjoyed it, Rebecca.
Not surprised at all at the result of your thinking beyond price. Everyone should (most do) seek to be fully engaged in the role of “conscious empathy.” Don’t know if that’s used by others but it came to mind as I read your posting. I’m dedicated to empathy for all the reasons I and others write about; bottom line, regardless of everything happening around us, it’s important for us to reach out, to extend the helping hand, to listen carefully and respond accordingly. As always, as you note, the returns (never sought) will come in many important ways – most especially in knowing we’ve “done good” as we seek the restful sleep each night. Won’t always hit a home run for sure but we tried, we cared! AND as with most positive thoughts and actions, the process becomes second nature, habitual, automatic…
But then there are times such as you describe where our desired outcomes just don’t go as we envisioned. Seems to me there are three types of responses: we can walk away, disgusted, hopefully with little bitterness, just disappointment – it just wasn’t “meant to be;” or if resources are available, we can respond in a way that’s not who we are – a decision that will likely be a thorn in our life for a long time; or we can turn to the “conscious empathy” as you did – keeping the parameters of the big picture in the considerations, we seek opportunities to be true to ourselves while addressing CONSCIOUSLY opportunities to bring joy to all involved.
Thanks for another great post!!!
Thanks, John. Great points about consciously engaging, connecting with empathy, and the choices we have. Much thanks for deepening the conversation.
Jesse, the sellers turning down the highest bid and only taking two, out of four, of your gold coins somehow renews my faith in humanity! Thanks fro sharing this adventure.
So glad to hear my story affected you that way, Barbara. It was my hope in writing this post.
So many powerful statements in this. I particularly resonate with “our beliefs shape our experiences” and “give without expecting anything”. We could rebuild our world if we looked for the goodness and greatness in every heart and if we gave because we could. Wow. Thanks, my friend.
“We could rebuild our world if we looked for the goodness and greatness in every heart and if we gave because we could.”
Beautifully said and true. Thank YOU, Eileen.
Great story Jesse. Thanks for sharing. There’s no substitute for your authentic personality and transparency, regardless of the outcome. I’m glad you got the house. I’m also glad you shared the story. Had you not been able to make the purchase, the points would remain. Many don’t share our values. I’m glad your seller did. Mike…
Such an important point, Mike. My action was “regardless of the outcome”. I felt I needed to do everything I could, and then whatever happened was out of my hands. And you’re right, even if I had not gotten the house, all of the lessons would still be valid.
Thanks for your good wishes.
A wonderful story and reminds me of the power of relationships and the currency that I sometimes take so for granted. Thanks.
So glad my story reminded you not to take that currency for granted, Emily.
Dear Jesse – This may be my favorite among all your blogs that I’ve read. It, and you, are heartwarming. Karma is what we all produce and what comes back to us. You, my dear colleague, produced the karma that returned to you in the form of a home. I know you will love each other.
Thanks so much for your warm wishes, my friend. I don’t usually write at such a personal level, but it was a story that wanted to be told.
Ah, what a story. I have been blessed to see this home (much more than a house) with my own eyes. Even be involved in picking paint colors for a couple rooms! What a blessing to have the opportunity to be an actor (bit part though it may be) in this unfolding story of goodness.
Get clear about what you believe, and prepare to receive….
Indeed you are part of the unfolding story, Jake. And so glad you are!
Heartiest Congratulations for your new Home. 🙂
Thanks for your good wishes, Gurmeet.
Great, great story!!! Congrats! I hope you have much happiness and health in your new house. It really was meant to be that its yours!
Thanks so much, Mary! Great to connect with you.