To be essential or not to be essential

Tom Brezsny
- Tom Brezsny

To be essential or not to be essential

To be essential or not to be essential….that is the question. I’m talking about the Department of Homeland Security deciding that Realtors should be considered an “essential service” last week.  (No doubt after serious lobbying by the Administration.)

It was another odd moment for an industry struggling to find its soul during the COVID crisis. An industry loosely-comprised of a million independent, commission-driven contractors on the front lines of selling the homes the rest of the world has retreated back into for safety and refuge during this unprecedented time.

Some Realtors saw it as an all-clear signal. An invitation to resume business as usual. And, with a convenient leap of logic, also as validation for the crucial role real estate plays in the economy: Since homes are about shelter and since they’re ground zero for everyone’s health and safety right now, what better justification is needed for encouraging people to get back out there into the marketplace?

Other Realtors received the news about “essential services” with trepidation.  Aren’t people getting sick? Isn’t the goal to flatten the curve? Is this a “fog of war” thing that speaks  more to the confusion of the moment than anything else? True, real estate is an essential part of the economy, but are we really essential for the next three weeks?

Looking around, it’s difficult to put Realtors in the same category as health care workers, first responders or emergency personnel. Or even mail carriers, grocery clerks and field-hands.  A simple thought: couldn’t we make a greater contribution by staying home and encouraging others to stay home? And: As health care workers struggle with a shortage of protective equipment, wouldn’t it make more sense to donate the gear Realtors are dressing up in to show properties, to them?

I was studying for my license in October of 1989 when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit. My home was on Myrtle Street, one of the hardest hit residential streets in Santa Cruz.  A week after Loma Prieta, even as the ground was still shaking, a real estate agent started “farming” my neighborhood. He left cheery little orange Halloween pumpkins on everyone’s porch and an invitation to contact him if anyone needed his help.

I called and asked him to come over to help me stack the bricks from my fallen chimney. But he showed up in an armani suit instead and offered to provide me with a “free market analysis”. Of all the things I could have been studying at that moment in time to prepare for the real estate test, that was the perfect lesson in how not to be essential.

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