Archive for January, 2009

by Rick Brash



 had the opportunity recently to attend a “state-of-the union” economics presentation here in Calgary (the heart of oil country). It was facilitated by the Alberta Treasury Branch and it featured Todd Hirsch, Senior Economist. He did a marvelous job of boiling down a very technical economic picture so a common and uneducated man (me) could understand what’s  going on. It’s interesting to see it in a clearer sense; how all the pertinent factors can come together to cause an economic meltdown like the one we’re enjoying now, continent wide.


In Alberta, where I live, a massive portion of the economy is affected by the price of crude oil. As Todd showed us, no where else in the country is the movement of West Texas Intermediate watched closer than it is in Alberta. (That’s the standard for crude cost that’s used industry wide) In the last while, it’s dropped from $16o.oo a barrel all the way to today’s rate of about $35.00. When that happens, cash flow evaporates and greatly affects practically every sector of our capitalistic, resource driven society because, simply, there’s less money to spend. As well, the Canadian dollar tumbles when commodity prices become unstable. Our dollar, stacked up against the American measuring stick, is only worth 79 or 80 cents. That’s great for Canadians doing commerce in the US but for us normal folks who simply want to hop the border in search better weather in the middle of a crippling Canadian winter, it means our wages are 20% less when we buy the trip, get some spending money, and pay for our bar bill. Ask yourself if you’d be willing to take a 20% drop in pay. Every time you cross the border, you do that without even having the chance to argue about it.


Another case in point, yesterday, the news reported that Canadian shopping malls over Christmas just enjoyed the slowest retail season since the early ‘70’s. Canadians spent less this year because, frankly, the future isn’t all that bright. Fear reigns. Will I have a job? Will my GIC’s disappear? Will my savings be worth anything? What happened to my equity? If you watch “the Late Show with David Letterman” like I do, you’ve heard him say numerous times over the last few months: “No one has any money left. The cash is all gone, there’s none left, I just want to know where it all went?” He gets a big laugh every time he says it, but there’s some truth to the monologue statement as evidenced by recent reports on current spending habits.


Credit cards were used less over the season as people become gun shy as they think about handling the debt later in the New Year. Another measuring stick bobbing around aimlessly in the sea of uncertainty is your local Real Estate market. Look at what’s happening in YOUR area. Here in Calgary, it’s the strongest buyers market I’ve ever seen and I’ve been working in this damn business since 1990. The compounding problem with that condition is despite the huge advantage to buying now, home hunters AREN’T buying – and if they do venture out and decide to take a run at something for sale, desperate sellers are just cringing at the low ball offers coming their way.


So, for the last number of years, my forte has been helping Real Estate agents adapt to the changing markets, learn how to use new tools to adjust or completely change their current model, and then garner the success that they came into the industry looking for. As any teacher or coach will tell you, some listen and adapt, constantly willing to adjust; others are just so rooted in their ways that they can’t change their paradigm no matter what is placed before them. Recently, if you haven’t heard, my friend Gary Keller released a new book called “SHIFT”. He co-authored it with Dave Jenks, and Jay Papasan two more great writers who have dedicated their lives to helping agents achieve success in a very unforgiving industry. I was privileged to receive an advance manuscript of the book early this year and read the entire work while on a speaking tour for Craig Proctor out east. It’s a great book, written as a compliment to the Millionaire Real Estate Agent – something every agent in North America should have read prior to getting a Real Estate selling license. The premise, as the title suggests, is to recognize that there has been an upheaval in what we thought was normal, working behavior. What was once considered normal is now just a distant memory and those who want to continue succeeding have to find a way to keep their model healthy and bring change to it where necessary. Gary lays out a very articulate 12 step program to keep you in the game despite the slowing market. Twelve unique, tested things that every agent should be doing to keep the income flowing in despite the doom and gloom around them.


Here’s what I think: Success stories you read about seem to all have a common denominator or two. The most recognized these days is the willingness of successful people to adapt to whatever comes at them. Adaptation is a cornerstone quality of successful people, people who seem to rise to the occasion regardless of what’s thrown at them. These are the folks we do well to emulate habits if we’re going to keep moving forward.


There’s an interesting story about adapting that I want to share with you. In fact, I like this so much that I’m going to start using this example as a good lesson from today forward. This story involves a couple of spiders, that’s right, SPIDERS, if you can believe it. Let me tell you about them…


These two little guys were given an extraordinary opportunity. They were sent into space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour bound for the International Space Station. How cool is that, they had become part of an NASA experiment. The purpose was to  determine the affects space and weightlessness would have on their web building abilities, prey capturing habits, and if those space conditions would affect the characteristics of their silk. Apparently, their adept use of gravity is a key component in how they spin their symmetry and determine what type of silk to manufacture for their architectural designs. The scientists were very interested to see what the little guys would do once the common denominator of gravity was removed from their habitual practise of using their body weight to spin and extrude that perfect, silk building material. As well, the proper use of gravity enables the perfect symmetry you see when the light shines on a web in the forest, on your deck, or maybe on your lawn chair overnight. Interestingly enough, it turns out that gravity is the key ingredient in the entire process and is the biggest ingredient for the web building mechanism of the hungry little worker. How cool is that, who knew?


Once they arrived at the space station, they were given the needed space and conditions in the lab to begin acting normal – spinning a web for both protection and to catch their dinner. Unfortunately, for the first day or two, the webs were a tangled mess that lacked anything recognizable in shape or design to a common looking web reflecting the uncoordination weightlessness was causing. The surrounding conditions of weightlessness skewed their usual habits resulting in an inability to perform normally. No precision, no symmetry, no normalcy. This continued for a couple of days in the lab on the Space station. In other words, the surrounding conditions completely dominated their regular, habitual ability.


Now as it turns out, the astronauts were also busy with a number of other things in the space station, including a renovation. They were adding sleeping quarters and renovating the bathroom or something.  


It was actually Mission Control, constantly observing the spiders activities, who noiticed one day that things had become normal. All of a sudden, it was symmetrical; it had all the usual characteristics and for all intents and purposes looked exactly as it was supposed to had there been some gravity for the little web builders to work with. In fact when the astronauts radioed home to Mission Control they commented, “It looks beautiful”. The spiders had taken a life curve-ball and hurled it back, succeeding in a completely new world with new physical conditions, having to make a completely new set of decisions.


What’s the moral of this little story? It’s pretty clear that these little guys were thrown into a completely new situation; a situation they clearly had absolutely NO experience with, one that threatened to dominate them, rob them of what they habitually knew to be “normal”, and actually kill them. Yes their lives were threatened by the new surroundings. Their first reaction was to use their normal behavior get back in to the comfort zone doing what they knew how to do and what had served them in the past. However, immediate feedback quickly told them their “in the box behavior” was now completely unsuitable. They were required to make choices, the living conditions actually FORCED them to adapt and create a new “normal”. Essentially, they could have sat in the corner and waited for the old ways to return or they could have gone after each other with one consuming the other for a meal. In contrast however, their natural instinct was to find a way to move forward. Instead of letting conditions defeat them, they found a way to work with what they had been given and get back to a normal existence. They succeeded and once they had mastered the adaptation, they continued to weave normal looking, symmetrical webs and their lives would have gone on as normal had there been other insects in the space station to catch in their webs. It was sink or swim, they chose to swim and kept swimming despite the conditions.


What an outstanding example of pure resilience. We do well to learn from this valuable lesson. It’s such a powerful tool to add to our mental tool box. Learn how to circumvent defeat as normality disappears. One of the simplest life forms on the planet, a spider, bears witness to this resiliency for us.


So how have YOU adapted to the new market your real estate business is in now. The more important question is: Are you willing to adapt to keep moving forward? If something as simple as a spider can sense the need to adapt, how much effort should we be applying as the planets only creatures of reason and thought? Simply look around to perceive what’s happened in your world recently. There’s never been a time when adaptation was more important. I recall with great fondness the days when we’d list a house, work the listing for a week or two and then negotiate the offer. I remember all to well the days of 95% success rates with listings. These days, in my market here in Calgary, only 1 in 12 or 13 homes sells and that seems to take 90 or 100 days. How willing are we to adapt. How willing are we to bring new ideas to the table and keep moving forward.


Be like a spider and be willing to change, forcing a new normal to serve you. Think about it, what have you got to loose?


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