Exit Interview

By: Wojciech Kic

In Houston, we are an automotive driven as opposed to a pedestrian culture. We all drive, we drive all the time, and we drive everywhere. Because we drive we are not as street wise as our contemporaries in the larger, pedestrian friendly towns of the East Coast. We learn about the world through the images we see out the windows of our cars. We identify the personalities of other drivers by the way they drive their cars, and how clean they keep their cars. Speeding, honking, and yielding to merging traffic are better indicators of a drivers’ adaptation to Texas than their out of state license plates.

All drivers deal with the same unexpected challenges when navigating the road. Road closings, detours, and occasional broken traffic lights cause common inconvenience, but they still are not acceptable excuses for delayed meetings or dinners. One challenge that all drivers face, on occasion, and deal with with the highest degree of unpredictability, is the presence of street beggars plying their trade at busy intersections . . .

Hour after hour, thousands of drivers stop at a red light, and confront these people. Mostly you observe drivers ducking beggars. Cell phone dialing suddenly hits a dead zone, shot gun passengers zero in on a search for a better radio station, and a car roof pillar suddenly doubles up as a hiding post. On rare occasions a car window opens up, and a dollar bill will slip through the window of a high dollar vehicle or a slightly abused truck.

Once, when my Jeep approached a red light, and I handed over a dollar bill, my guest remarked: “All you did was tell him that work doesn’t pay.” Ever since that day, I can’t decide whether I have done more harm than good with this gesture.

An uncomfortable topic indeed . . .

But a beggar can teach a businessman plenty.Take for example a landlord’s challenge marketing a long standing vacancy.There is a common denominator: survival. One can only take the bleeding for so long regardless of reserves. Showing after showing, prospects walk the property, admire its details, and express appreciation for the opportunity.“It is between you and the other property. Either way, we will call you back.” It is the absence of one way, and the silence of another that adds to losses and confuses landlords beyond comprehension.

But the answer is just around the corner, proclaims marketing 301. Did you bother to ask? Seek viewer feedback? Ask for examples of what the prospects liked and disliked about the proper ty? “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

“Let’s see”, replied the prospect, “This house has a lot of potential. But let’s star t with problems. I prefer the kitchen white with ceramic tile countertops. Formica just won’t do. The bathroom requires a new tub because the existing one is too shallow. Window mini-blinds should be one inch wide on all windows to match. I want to save on my electric bill, so I will need ceiling fans in all rooms. And let’s not forget weekly yard service. I will sign the lease after you have done these upgrades, and waived one month’s rent for my inconvenience.”

Competitive real state agents only too quickly promote a profit against this deep wail of mystery.” “Well, how well did you . . . listen? Did you ask the right . . . questions?”

Simple enough . . .

But when asked for the favor of a valuable advice, prospective tenants are only too rational. “My lips are sealed. Let him stew.” Prospects duck their offenders, least they accidentally tip them off with much needed lifeline. Standing over a carpet stain to make it invisible? That’s what prospects do! “Surely, now I know that this wasn’t a problem. They did not even see it!” The landlord barely conceals his smile. Barking dogs outside: “We love dogs; thinking of getting one of our own.” A landlord quickly wipes the sweat from his brow. Cracked window panes? Missing mini-blinds? “We love our drapes. It makes a house more personal.”A tear saved.This landlord will never know because he doesn’t deser ve to know. “Perhaps you should have helped?” the prospect’s feel guilty sidekick gently prods. But when a “For Sale” sign soon appears, this earns the socially aware prospect a smug smile for being right, and helping the landlord get off the street.

What do I know!

So next time, when you bid your prospect good-bye, do not get drawn into that “how did you get into these riches” talk even as they are kicking the edges of your welcome mat. If you do, you may miss out on your most valuable tip, and quickly disprove that all too many landlords or beggars fit their mold.

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