Tom Sawyer learned this lesson at a young age.  You should too.


I now read my books on my Kindle or on the Kindle app on my IPad, so gradually I have been cleaning out my library. Not a library as a “room with books”, but a library as in “there are books all over my house tucked in various places”.  Yesterday, there was a short stack of books that I had pulled out of a box that was packed during one of my many moves and moved from house to house without ever being opened. The stack was sitting at the base of the stairs in the garage.  I had a chance to go through the stack yesterday and found one of my favorite books from my childhood  – an original hardcover of The Adventures of  Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.  I remember it being one of the first books I read as a child and one that I wanted my kids to read.  This particular book was printed in 1917 (ummm – it was OLD when I read it, guys!).  I’m re-reading it now, and well, it makes me smile.

I presume Tom to be about 12 years old during this classic novel (Clemens never mentions Tom’s age in the book.  He lets the readers decide). The first chapter has Aunt Polly punishing Tom by doing a chore that he dreads. He has to whitewash a stretch of fence along the road in front of Aunt Polly’s house. As Tom sets out to figure out how he going to get out of this dreadful task, he has an inspiration. He gets diligently to work and pretends not to notice as one by one his playmates walk by.  He comments on how important and pleasurable the whitewashing task is and how rewarding the task is to perform and his Aunt will not entrust anyone do have this responsibility but Tom.  By the end of the morning, he has charged each one of his playmates some valuable item in barter for the opportunity to have the same pleasure of white washing; of seeing the results of their work in stark white contrast as the white takes over the dray grey clapboard fence and transforms it into a thing of beauty, board by board.  Heck, the kids are lined up to pay Tom to whitewash. The task is done by the end of the morning, much to Aunt Poll’s surprise, and Tom is much wiser for his efforts.

Tom Sawyer, according to the author; “… had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely that in order to make a man or boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make that thing difficult to attain.” Tom also learned that: “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.” (Direct quotes from the novel aforementioned, published by Harper & Brothers, 1875).

Another way of applying Tom Sawyer ’s principle of “difficult to attain” is that a thing has more value if there was a cost involved in attaining it. Free golf balls? I’ll practice hitting into the field and will not retrieve the balls. Golf balls cost $1.00 each?  I’ll go hunt them down.

The “difficulty to attain” does not have to be money. It could be time, effort, it could be a relationship, or it could be a reputation. It just needs to be some “skin in the game”.

The three parties I deal with most in real estate are: real estate agents, real estate sellers, and real estate buyers. I see the above principle in play almost on a daily basis in all three. If a seller lists a house with an agent, the seller should make sure to get a commitment from that agent to make a presentation on what he will do for that listing, an appraisal, a marketing proposal, etc. Better to make the agent prove his work and get fully involved. He needs to have more skin in the game than the commission at the end of a successful sale.  On the other hand, from the agent’s perspective, a “bluebird” listing (one that just flies in the window uninvited) is SOOO easy to lose – because there was no commitment from the seller to the agent at all.

For the buyer it may be easy to get a real estate agent to drive him around all day on his gas, but if the real estate agent asks the prospect to sign an exclusive representation agreement beforehand, and in turn the prospect gets a commitment of time from that agent in return,  the relationship will have a better opportunity of a successful outcome. Both parties are, to varying degrees, at risk of losing something.

I happened to be in Bradenton this week. One of my agents called me and asked if I could show a waterfront home we have listed in Redington Shores, one hour north.  I asked if the client was pre-qualified to buy this house.  The response was, “yes he was”.  I went an hour to the house, waited an hour, and the client never showed.  The value proposition to the client obviously was not presented properly and the client had nothing to lose by not showing up. I personally should have developed a relationship with the client first so there was at least the “face losing possibility,” but I was faceless, I had no relationship with this client (the agent that had me go there obviously did not either – but that’s another story).

Where do we stand with Florida Real estate? Home inventory is at an all-time low, builders are starting to go vertical, prices are rising, and location is as important as ever. Money is still cheap and readily available. I have never had such a strong feeling as I do now that THIS IS THE TIME TO BUY.  We need more homes to sell.



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