Sunday, August 23, 2009

On Volunteering, Bluffing and Pie

Habitat for Humanity put out a call for volunteers last week, which is how I found myself bright-eyed a bushy-tailed outside a huge storefront on Notre-Dame St. W. in St-Henri at 8 o'clock in the blessed a.m. on Saturday.
I wasn't alone. About 15 volunteers and assorted HH crew leaders drifted in over the next half hour. Our task was to prime, paint the ceiling and put a top coat on the walls of what will soon be Habitat's new ReStore location.
ReStore is the retail end of Habitat for Humanity. It sells home improvement materiials donated by corporate partners. The biggest of these is Home Depot. Makes sense, since both organizations have roots in the region of Atlanta, Ga..
The goods were piled on pallets lining the walls of the store. From what I could see there were boxes of toilets and pedestal sinks, chandeliers, blinds and curtains, dented gallon cans of paint, small electric and hand tools, doors and windows. You get the idea.
The store, at 4399 Notre-Dame, near the corner of Ste-Marguerite, is tentatively scheduled to open on September 8. But first, the volunteer army has to get it ready.
We were led by a ridiculously handsome and charismatic man named Ernesto, whose main job was pointing us in a general direction and leaving us alone to work.
I grabbed a roller and a telescopic pole and, working with two others began laying a top coat of eggshell paint on the walls for six hours. Today, a little like John McCain, I am unable to raise my arms above my shoulders. Totally worth it, though. I'm not complaining.
The paint went on this institutional greyish beige, a shade I quickly came to think of as creme of field mouse soup. It was a vast improvement over the chalky white primer, but still. . . By the middle of the afternoon, it had dried to a warm off white, vellum or linen colour. Nice.
It was cool to see how all these volunteers, most of whom did not seem to know one another, went about getting the job done without anybody telling them how or what to do. Two women, strangers to each other, spent most of the day on a scaffold rolling paint onto the 20-foot ceilings. One said the experience gave her a new appreciation for Michelangelo. He spent seven years on his back painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Had it been me, I would have applied a coat of eggshell and been done in an afternoon. I guess that's the big difference between me and the Renaissance's greatest artist.
By the end of the day, the ceiling was done, and the walls had a first coat of eggshell. The volunteers wrapped the rollers and paint brushes in plastic for the next day. Many of them were planning to be back again on Sunday to continue.


My cell phone rang in the middle of the day. An agent was calling to tell me she had received an offer on a house two of my clients were planning to bid on. If we were still interested in the house, she needed our offer by 7 p.m. No pressure, eh?
I called Amy, my partner in all things including real estate. She phoned the clients and began to prepare the offer, filling in the Promise to Purchase, Annex A (financing) and Annex B (other conditions). Covered with paint, I finished my shift with HH at 4 p.m. Time to get home, shower, change and zip across town to the Plateau to meet the clients at 5:30, go over the offer, do the math one more time, sign all the documents in quadruplicate and then race to Pointe-Claire to present the offer to the other agent and her client at 7 p.m.
It's always a gamble when you learn there's another offer on the table. Is the agent bluffing or are you really in competition with someone else for this really interesting Plateau property? Do you make your best possible offer from the get-go, or do you try to to low ball in the hopes of getting it for less?
I was pretty sure the other agent was BS-ing me. It seemed unlikely that an 11-th hour buyer had materialized. I didn't blame her, she was doing what she had to do to get the best price for her client.
Still, I couldn't take a chance. The clients and I talked it over. We decided to come in $3,000 higher than the offer we had originally settled on. They were still well within their budget.
I met the agent and her client in a Rockaberry's pie shop. (!!!) After five minutes of pleasantries, we got down to business, including a spiel about what outstanding citizens my clients are, how much they love the house, how they plan to turn it into a happy home for their five-year-old boy.
Ten minutes later, after some phone consultation with family members, our offer was accepted.
Ding-ding-ding!! Jackpot! Winner-winner-chicken-dinner! It's the best part of being a real estate. When you get to phone your clients and say, "Congratulations, you have just purchased a home."
Only I didn't. Instead, I purchased a raspberry crumb pie (they mentioned it was a favorite) and drove back to the Plateau to give them the good news face to face.
There was hugging, dancing and jumping up and down. We had pie and milk, as I urged them to contact the building inspector ASAP and to double down on their bank to get the financing squared away. By 9 p.m., I was headed home. It was a full day, and like the raspberry pie, a pretty good one, no matter how you slice it.

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