This month, I’m celebrating 25 years of selling real estate in the DMV.
Prior to becoming a real estate agent, I had bought and sold at least a dozen homes over the past 20 years and had a lot of experience with real estate agents. There were those who required my full attention when they spoke and those who made me think, “I can do better than that.”
When I returned to DC from Minnesota in 1997, unemployed, I enrolled in real estate school and quickly learned that helping others do what I had done for years involved a whole new set of skills. The process and the rules continue to evolve.
With my DC license in hand, followed by Maryland and Virginia licenses by the end of the year, I moved into my unfinished basement and joined a Century 21 franchise. A year later, I moved to Prudential (now Berkshire Hathaway) where I stayed for 15 years, then to Keller Williams, and in 2017 to RLAH @properties, which I consider my final resting place.
At first, only minimal computer skills were needed and showing ownership was terribly inefficient. There were few agent websites and no mainstream search engines. Our multiple listing system was based on Windows 3.1 and had proprietary software that only real estate agents could access. When it became an Internet-based system, it opened up search capabilities to the public.
The only photograph available in the multiple listing service was a black and white of the facade of each house. No home visits, no floor plans, no video – just an address and description to trick you into seeing the house.
There were no electronic safes, only combination locks where many officers left the initial settings in place rather than changing the code. If you didn’t know a combination, you could try one out of two and be 80% guaranteed to get the key back.
Some brokerages did not use safes at all and kept house keys in their offices. An agent should sign a key and then return it immediately for use by the next agent in line after the presentation. Instead of making a convenient house-to-house circular route, officers would have to criss-cross town to where the keys were. Our customers were driving in our cars.
There were no cell phones. If you needed to contact your agent from the road, you should find a landline and contact them. Agents would return a page by stopping at their desk or looking for a (gasp!) payphone.
Buyer representation had just become a thing. Many agents wanted nothing to do with it, but buyers eventually learned that without an agency agreement, when they spent time telling “their” agent their life story and financial background, the agent was legally obligated to spill the tea to the seller, even though it was not their list.
The offers had far fewer pages. They were written in person in brokers’ offices, in buyers’ homes, and on the hoods of cars. We carried an assortment of forms in our trunks.
Handwritten signatures were required, so we did a lot of commuting or faxing. With offers being repeatedly countered, a faxed contract was often illegible by the time all signatures were appended, and lenders required a clean copy to be signed by both buyers and sellers.
Buyers’ agents presented offers to sellers in person at the listing agent’s office or at the sellers’ homes. We practiced defending our buyers and often our clients’ offers were selected not only on the quality of the offer, but also on our presentation and organizational skills. Buyers often waited outside in the car in case they needed to react quickly to a counter offer (remember: no cell phones).
Home inspections were done regularly and sellers actually fixed things. The bar was set higher – systems and devices had to be in “normal working order” and true “as is” sales were rare. Everyone had an appraisal done as part of the loan approval process, except cash buyers, who were few.
The rule sheets were easier to read. There was no complex closing disclosure, which confuses more than informs clients about the costs involved in the settlement. The closings took place in person, with both parties attending together, usually exchanging contact details and congratulating each other when completed.
Is buying and selling homes easier today with the internet, computers, cell phones and Zoom chats? Maybe, but sometimes I long for the “old days” where we interacted more personally with our customers. I still remember all of them – more than 550 of them – and I will remember them as long as I have my intelligence and my memory.
Valerie M. Blake is a licensed associate broker in DC, Maryland and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate / @properties. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.comor follow her on Facebook at Levrai8des affaires.