Three years/The Townhouse

I realized last week sometime that today is the third anniversary of my officially becoming a real estate agent…and tomorrow, purely coincidentally, I’ll be closing on my next home. To say that real estate has been very good to me would be a dramatic understatement—when people ask me how it’s going, the most honest answer I can give is that it feels like someone made a copy of my soul and then turned it into a profession. I’ll be doing this until I retire, and knowing that frees me up to start thinking about what my life looks like long-term in a different way than I have up until very recently.

When I bought my current place, a 600 sq ft co-op apartment on top of Capitol Hill, I was one year into my plan to call an end to my wandering twenties and settle down in Seattle for good, and I’d just started a job at the Mayor’s Office with an open-ended “let’s see where this takes me” attitude and no expectations about what the future would bring. I used was what was left of the savings that I’d been using to travel around the world without flying for my down payment, and in doing so I cut off my escape routes and forced myself to commit to Seattle at a time in my life when stagnation and complacency were my greatest fears (after I moved in I named my wifi network “Room 101” in honor of the final scene in 1984). One of my life goals at the time was to spend every dollar that I had in my twenties and start over completely from scratch on my 30th birthday, and after I closed on this place, 8 days after I turned 30, I had a wonderful home and a great job but less than $100 to my name. If I’d thrown a party and invited everyone I knew in Seattle, I would have been doing well to have gotten 5 or 6 people to come to it.

Fast forward 7 ½ years, though, and my life feels like it doesn’t quite fit inside my little co-op apartment anymore. My roots have burrowed deep enough into Seattle, and Capitol Hill specifically, that I can’t imagine ever leaving; and because I’m surrounded by the most incredibly community of people that I’ve ever been a part of, being able to give back to that community in a meaningful way has become a much higher priority for me than it has been in the past. I’m very keenly aware that my financial situation gives me options many Seattleites don’t have, and given that my current place was easily affordable to me when I was making a fraction of what I do now, I feel a certain moral obligation to pass it along to someone who will put it to good use and move on to a long-term home that a) is more commensurate with my current income, so that I won’t be taking a unit of housing away from someone who’s at risk of being priced out of the city; b) will ensure that I never need to leave Capitol Hill, regardless of what happens in the future with work or life; and c) can serve as a community resource and gathering space in a way that my current place simply can’t.

The home that I’m closing on tomorrow meets all of those criteria. It’s a 3-story, 3-bedroom new construction townhouse in the heart of Capitol Hill, and I’ve spent the last 6 months meticulously planning out uses for its 1,515 square feet + rooftop deck that will allow it to flexibly encompass indoor/outdoor entertaining and event spaces, co-working space for 8-10 people, a meeting/small conference room, a guest suite/AirBnB rental that can comfortably accommodate a family of four, and a movie screening room/home office. I got it under contract as a pre-sale last November 3rd, five days before the election, so I’ve had plenty of time to think about what it means to me and what I want it to mean to my community. I’m looking forward to getting moved in later this month and putting my money where my mouth is.

The first year of the Civic Minute, by the numbers

In scanning this week’s news to get ready for the one-year anniversary edition of the Civic Minute, I was reminded of how omnipresent the year-end wrap-up article has become…and then it occurred to me that I could do one of my own! The Civic Minute, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is my weekly wrap-up email of local political news for Seattle—it’s technically also my real estate marketing newsletter, but its only job there is to remind everyone I know once a week that I sell real estate. It’s specifically designed to be useful and relevant to anyone who lives in Seattle, even if you don’t care at all about real estate.

As many of you know, I love tracking my Civic Minute metrics, and I know a lot of you like to follow along from home, too (thanks for all the help in ranking subject lines on Facebook each week). So without further ado, I present the first year of the Civic Minute, by the numbers:

Subscribers

I started the Civic Minute in late November of 2014 by sending it cold to a small group of about 50 beta testers. I made a lot of tweaks over the course of December of 2014 based on the input I got from that group, and once I saw how excited people were to get it every week, I decided to launch it wide the first Sunday in January. That first email went out to 1,587 people on January 4th of this year, each of whom was handpicked by me after carefully going through my database and choosing people I thought would like it.

Since then, a total of 175 people have unsubscribed (about 11%), 390 new subscribers have signed up, and I’ve added 73 more people directly. My current subscriber count is 1776…which is kind of a perfect number at which to end the first year :) One of my goals for 2016 is to get that over 2,000, though, so if you know someone you think would like the Minute, please recommend it to them!

Open rates

I spend a lot of time thinking about which subject line will give me the best open rate. My average open rate for the entire year is currently 36.8%; here are my top 10 most-opened subject lines from 2015:

  1. 50.9%, 1/4/15: Welcome to Sol’s Civic Minute! What’s happening in Seattle, in 60 seconds per week.
  2. 44.7%, 8/16/15: Little girl + crows = lawsuit; the City calls for a voluntary 10% reduction in water use; and more…
  3. 43.6%, 5/31/15: [Civic Minute] Barefoot Ted answers the mystery of those little self-propelled wheels, the City cracks down on medical marijuana, and more…
  4. 43.2%, 6/21/15: [Civic Minute] Dive-bombing crows are back–and they remember what you did last summer; the Polar Pioneer leaves town; and more…
  5. 41.7%, 1/11/15: Fun with district elections, a stink-fog explainer, and more…
  6. 41.7%, 5/3/15: [Civic Minute] A new Councilmember is born, Taylor Shellfish decides neurotoxins & oysters don’t mix, and more…
  7. 41.5%, 6/28/15: The Ancient One returns to his people, rainbow crosswalks kick off Pride weekend #LoveWins-style, and more…
  8. 40.6%, 3/29/15: [Civic Minute] 20,000 new units of affordable housing, Comcast: The Reckoning, and more…
  9. 40.3%, 3/22/15: [Civic Minute] Bertha gets a facelift, Cupcake Royale pot cookies, and more…
  10. 40.0%, 4/26/15: [Civic Minute] Rent control takes center stage, William Shatner declares war on Seattle, and more…

Article clicks

Don’t worry, the Civic Minute is in no danger of becoming clickbait any time soon—I choose the content based on what I think is most relevant, but I do pay close attention to what my readers click on in each email. My goal each week is to maximize my open rate, and knowing which articles people want to read most helps with that goal—I usually consider it a win if the most-clicked article is the same as the one that I chose for the subject line opener. Here are the top 20 most-clicked articles from 2015, along with the number of clicks that each one got:

  1. This DYI hack for an air conditioner has nearly 3M views on YouTube (139 clicks, 7/5/15)
  2. Bertha reaches daylight (116 clicks, 2/22/15)
  3. Neighbors elevate themselves to #1 on the Crow Shitlist (83 clicks, 8/16/15)
  4. The Solowheel: transportation solution or Segway sequel? (79 clicks, 5/31/15)
  5. Stuck in Seattle: The Aggravating Adventures of a Gigantic Tunnel Drill (77 clicks, 4/12/15)
  6. Linking brains: Researchers at UW say they’ve done it (67 clicks, 9/27/15)
  7. 1,000-foot-long waterslide coming to Seattle (63 clicks, 1/25/15) [KOMO has taken the source page down, so the link doesn’t work anymore]
  8.  Amazon opens ‘Community Banana Stand’ at Seattle HQ to give away free fruit (63 clicks, 12/6/15)
  9. Inside the Smith  Tower apartment (59 clicks, 4/26/15)
  10. Goodspaceguy: The definitive interview with King County’s perennial candidate (59 clicks, 11/1/15)
  11. Marijuana vending machine to debut in Seattle (57 clicks, 2/1/15) [KOMO has taken this one down, too; apparently they don’t archive their stories]
  12. We made you a present. [Seattlish’s district map] (57 clicks, 5/3/15)
  13. Don’t Be Alarmed: We’re Researching Crows (56 clicks, 10/11/15)
  14. Seattle’s first cat café finally opens doors in Wallingford (55 clicks, 12/20/15)
  15. Nine Questions for Sandi Doughton, Author of Full-Rip 9.0: The Next Big Earthquake in the Pacific Northwest (54 clicks, 7/26/15)
  16. Capitol Hill’s ‘supernatural’ pop machine stays stocked, but how? Nobody knows (54 clicks, 8/30/15)
  17. Sweet Little Mysteries: Discovering Seattle’s Hidden Orchards (54 clicks, 10/4/15)
  18. Former Queen Anne fire station 26 is on the market as a residential property (53 clicks, 3/1/15)
  19. Seattle’s Shoreline Street Ends Map & Photos (53 clicks, 7/12/15)
  20. Seattle’s old brick buildings could see huge damage in big quake (53 clicks, 8/16/15)

And there you have it! Let me know if there’s any other data you’re interested in, or if you have any suggestions for the newsletter.

Thanks for all of your support in 2015, and have a happy New Year :)

On the road again

Until last week, I hadn’t left the country since March of 2011. That’s something that my immediate post-college self would have been blown away and saddened by—but he would have wholeheartedly approved of my reason for breaking that international travel fast last week.

You see, 13 years and just over a month ago, I fell in love with a BMW. It was a black, manual transmission, ’99 328i, and when it arrived one day on the used car lot of the little Ford dealership in Burien where I worked, it was like a visitor from another world. It was love at first sight; after I surreptitiously checked out the keys and took it for a lunch run the next day, it was a foregone conclusion that if I ever had the financial wherewithal to own a luxury car, this would be the one—it was so quick, so responsive, its transmission was so silky smooth, that it seemed like another class of thing entirely from my trusty little Civic hatchback, the economy of which suddenly no longer seemed like the highest virtue to which a car could aspire. The 328 struck a perfect balance between respectability and adventure: it could handle the best driving roads in America without compromise, but you could also fit four people and luggage in it comfortably.

I poked around BMW’s website, visited a couple of dealerships, and quickly decided that someday, if I ever made enough money, I was going to order a brand new one and pick it up via BMW’s European Delivery program, whereby you fly to Munich, drive your new car off the factory floor, and then go gallivanting around Europe for a week or two before dropping it off to be shipped back to you in the States. Nothing truly worth doing is ever worth doing less than flat-out, as far as I’m concerned.

It was definitely a dream deferred, though—at the time, my focus was on living as simply as possible to pay off all of my college debts and save up enough money to travel all the way around the world without flying. I saw the path that led to the BMW as antithetical to my chosen way of life, such a distant possibility that it quickly came to represent the temptation to abandon my values rather than something to which I actually aspired. I gave up on ever actually owning my dream car, but the dream never went away.

My younger self and I had a lot of adventures together in the years that followed, including, when I was 29, choosing stability over freedom and settling down in Seattle once and for all, with no intention to leave this time. That was how I thought about it—my life was a binary in which I could either have freedom or stability, but never fully both. I wasn’t going to compromise one value for the other by, for example, becoming a travel writer, which on its surface would have allowed me to keep pursuing my passions long-term but in my mind would have corrupted the travel impulse by tying it to work.

My solution to the problem was to plan on going to nursing school (I had other reasons, too, some of which were more important, but this was the aspect of that decision that’s most relevant here), which I reasoned would allow me to continue living out my binary work/travel cycle, building a life where I could have both, in full measure, indefinitely. I figured nurses were so highly in demand that I could just up and quit my job whenever I wanted to travel for months at a time and not have to worry about finding another job when I got back, plus there was always travel nursing for living abroad in one place at a time for extended periods. I signed up as a volunteer at a local hospital and discovered that I enjoyed the work, so I started taking my pre-requisite classes in preparation for applying to the UW’s 2-year BSN program.

Nursing school got put on hold, though, when I got wrapped up in the McGinn for Mayor campaign back in the summer of 2009. McGinn offered me a job in his administration after he won the election; I said yes, and I’m not sure that any single decision I’ve ever made has had a larger impact on my life. The job itself was great, but unbeknownst to me at the time, its greatest gift was the incredible network that it left me with after the administration ended and I found myself in need of a new mechanism through which to exchange my time for money.

The decision to become a real estate agent was something the undeniable rightness of which I recognized immediately as soon as the idea popped into my head. Working on commission was a deep part of my soul that hadn’t been fed in over a decade; I was ready to be my own boss; I liked the idea of being able to pay off the mortgage on my co-op apartment so that I’d be free to pursue the things I was most passionate about without being limited by money; and I figured that I knew enough people in Seattle that at least a couple of them would be willing to trust me enough to help them buy a house.

So I jumped in, not knowing what to expect and fully intending not to make my first sale for 12 months, which was one of the possibilities I’d been warned about. As far as I was concerned, if I could make my modest Mayor’s Office salary by the end of year two I’d be doing great, and if I really played my cards right I might reach a point in 5 years where referral traffic was keeping me in business without my having to go out and beat the pavement to find new clients.

To say that things went better than I could have possibly imagined would be an understatement. I got my license in August of last year and reached out to everyone I knew to let them know I was in the business in mid-September. People I knew started reaching out directly wanting to work with me; by October it was already a more than full-time job, and by December I had sold three houses already. Last Christmas I dared to dust off my old dream just enough to keep me motivated: the 328 was the only big-ticket item I’ve ever wanted that money can buy, so it became my goal. Things kept going amazingly well—at this point I’ve sold 20 houses in the last 12 months, and all of my clients have either been people from my existing network or direct referrals. My real estate career is already at the point I thought it would take me 5 years to reach, for which I feel incredibly fortunate.

This past Spring was the busiest period in my professional life to date. At some point in May, at the height of real estate’s silly season for the year, I decided that I was ready to place the order for the BMW. A few days later I was getting dinner with a good friend, and she told me about a bucket list item of her own in the Czech Republic that already had a date attached: October 15th. It was another decision that made itself—I suggested that we combine our trips, she thought it was a great idea…and just like that, taking European Delivery on a new BMW went from an abstract concept to something with a specific orientation in time and space.

On the road again

I went into BMW of Seattle, put the order together, and set a firm pickup date: October 12th, 2015. It still didn’t seem entirely real to me, though, right up until the moment this past Monday that I found myself in the BMW flagship showroom in Munich standing in front of the most beautiful car I’d ever seen, operating on four hours of sleep due to a combination of residual jet lag and childlike Christmas-day-style anticipation and separated by my hotel for the night by hundreds of miles of Autobahn and twisty driving roads leading up and over the Austrian Alps.

The car has become a symbol for me of the Hegelian synthesis of freedom and stability that is my life in Seattle right now. I used to write in my journals about my “travel impulse,” that gnawing hunger in my belly that cared less about the destination than it did about the constant meditative motion of the open road. I thought about it alternately as a subtle self-doubt, driving me on to prove that I was capable of existing totally on my own without reference to the support network that I’d had from birth to 22; an obsession with filling my life with as many new experiences as I could; and a desire to front-load my retirement while I was still young enough to fully enjoy it, a non-monetary form of compound experiential interest that’s still bearing fruit in my life to this day. As soon as that hunger went away, I thought, as soon as my appetite changed to things that were more easily accessible and that tied me to one place (a mortgage, a wife & kids), the next phase of my life would begin, with stability as the guiding principle instead of travel.

My life since the Mayor’s Office has shown me the middle path instead, a perfect balance between freedom and stability that’s driven by the essence of my travel impulse, curiosity and joyful exploration and play, but in the context of a loving, supportive community who enable me to be true to the deepest parts of myself in a way that the freedom of the open road never could. Being able to share this trip with a good friend has been wonderful, and I’m in the midst of organizing a month-long cross-country progressive road trip with different groups of friends to help me get the car to Seattle from BMW’s Performance Delivery Center in South Carolina, where I’ll be picking it up in early January (we just dropped the car off with the shipping company in Vienna earlier this afternoon, and I miss it already).

Real estate has really helped in making this lifestyle possible, not only monetarily but also by interweaving my personal life and my work life in a way that honestly doesn’t even feel like work most days. My friends have been just as important in more ways than I could list here, one of which has been helping me see that stability and stagnation are two very different things, and that it’s very possible to have the former without the latter. My life in Seattle right now feels perfectly balanced, with my need for freedom and my need for stability each helping to sustain and nurture the other.

And that’s ultimately what the BMW represents to me: the joining of what I’d previously thought of as two disparate life goals into one unified and seamless whole, just as uncompromisingly in its element on the best driving roads in California as it is on a quick trip to the store to get groceries with a couple of nieces or nephews in tow. It’s the perfect symbol for this time in my life—and I’m looking forward immensely to getting it back to Seattle in January with a little help from my friends.

What’s next for me

I’ve spent the last seven months doing a lot—traveling a ton, finishing the full catalog of improv classes at Unexpected Productions, writing my first play, hiking and backpacking, going on my first-ever bike tour, falling in love with running and completing my first half-marathon, doing SIFF right for the first time in four years, co-founding Organizing for Seattle, reading books again, having more fun dating than I ever have before in my life, giving my third Ignite talk, pitching an idea at Crosscut’s inaugural Community Idea Lab, telling a live story at The Moth’s Story Slam in Fremont, taking a 15-day break from modern technology, finding my voice as a private citizen in local politics, playing chess again for the first time in years, facilitating and helping put together the Hack to End Homelessness, learning to salsa, driving Ferrarris and Lamborghinis, watching a pair of baby hummingbirds gestate, hatch, and then grow up and eventually fly away right outside my kitchen window, helping friends buy cars, serving on the board of the co-op I live in, watching live theater and dance again in earnest, learning AdWords and the basics of SEM over the course of self-publishing my first book, spending a huge amount of quality time with friends…and, for the last couple of months, taking the online courses that are required to become a real estate agent in Washington State. I passed the state exam two days ago, and about an hour ago I became an officially licensed agent with Windermere Eastlake!

Windermere logo

I did a lot of soul-searching immediately after the Mayor’s Office, and I explored a lot of different options for my next career move. I looked into everything from advocacy work to getting a master’s degree to starting my own business, but none of them felt quite right. After sitting with it long enough, I realized that the one thing I’ve been missing in my life since the day I stopped selling cars at Millennium Ford over 10 years ago is the feeling of “eating what I kill,” as my used car manager put it. It’s a phrase that encompasses both being paid precisely what I’m worth and being forced to stay hungry and lean in order to succeed, not being allowed to get complacent and soft. In other words, I realized that I’ve really been missing working on commission.

When I thought about commission-based jobs that I would actually want to do right now, real estate was the first thing that came to mind—I had a great experience buying my apartment 4 ½ years ago, and the idea of helping other people have a similarly great experience navigating one of the biggest, most complex, and most stressful transactions of their lives really appealed to me. So did the prospects of essentially running my own business, having to master a wide variety of marketing techniques, being able to spend more time in strangers’ homes in a socially acceptable way (since I’m being honest—one of my favorite things about selling Cutco back in college was getting to sit down in peoples’ living rooms while I was selling them knives)…and, of course, being able to pay off my own mortgage much sooner than I would otherwise be able to. I do my best work when I’m strongly motivated, and aside from elections, becoming debt-free has historically been my best source of motivation where work is concerned. It’s why I was willing to put so many hours in as a car salesman immediately after college, and also why I was debt-free at 23 and able to travel for nearly a year and a half on the money I saved up 10 years ago.

The more I thought about becoming a real estate agent, the more I realized it was what I needed to do. All real estate agents in Washington are required to take a 90-hour course (I did mine online), pass the state exam, and operate under the umbrella of an established brokerage. While I was getting the coursework out of the way I did some research, set up several interviews, and ultimately decided to hang my license with Windermere’s Eastlake office. Windermere has by far the biggest share of the real estate market in Seattle at around 42% (John L Scott is next in line with around 16%), and they also have a strong culture around new agent training and support ; I’m really glad to have ended up with them.

As I’ve talked to people informally over the course of the last couple of months, one of the most common questions I’ve gotten has been what my focus or specialty will be. The answer is twofold: I’m most passionate about helping first-time homebuyers find homes, especially now in a red-hot seller’s market where there’s significant competition for every available property (I’ve always liked going to bat for the underdog); but in the early stages, realistically my real estate practice is going to depend on how many of you either choose me as your agent when it comes time for you to buy or sell your home or recommend me to your friends and acquaintances when they’re going through that process themselves.

So if you don’t already have someone in the “my real estate agent” slot in your mind, please consider me your agent on call and let your friends know that they can do the same. Whether you want to email me with questions, get coffee and discuss the market and your options, dip your toe in the water by going out and looking at homes, or go all in and either look for a new home in earnest or sell your current one, I’d love to talk to you.

Thanks for helping to make the last 7 months so much fun, and please don’t hesitate to let me know if I can be of service, in real estate or otherwise!