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Women With Vision Magazine
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To Have a Plan
“Why’d you go so overboard with the gift?” the birthday child’s mom asked me. Twenty years later, and I had just given an elaborate, hand-crafted, sunken treasure chest filled with corals and coins, an eye patch and an earring, and flags and fortunes, for a three-year-old’s party.
It had been years since I thought of that day in the closet when I hatched my plan to create children’s theme parties. I’d been too busy being a real estate agent, fixing and flipping homes, and selling ice for igloos and seashells by the seashore.
The next day, I started Princess and Pirate Parties.
My business succeeded beyond what my child’s mind could have conceived. I trademarked my company name and had Cinderellas and Snow Whites working for me all over the country. I combined the Disney Princesses before Disney did, putting together treasure chests for mail-order parties worldwide. I heard stories of cease-and-desist letters going out to small businesses advertising Cinderella at your birthday party. None came to me.
I grew large enough to transition from homemade to licensed costumes. I became the largest buyer of Halloween costumes during the off-season – for pennies on the dollar, no less.
Like raising children, my business grew until it was time to move on and for me to have an empty nest. I retired at fifty years old and made a fresh start in Florida. My father also retired at fifty and moved to Florida, then un-retired himself before he reached age sixty. I had ten years to decide what to do next.
Now what? I didn’t have a twenty-year-old business plan to rely on this time. Or did I? I’d never thought about it, but I realized my experience in real estate, including the vacation rental that precipitated our move to Florida, and my financial savvy from the early days of juggling money from Peter to pay Paul to run a successful international business was the ideal skill sets for a career.
It was December 2020, and I was bored. I knew interest rates were at historic lows and would start climbing by mid-January. I Googled mortgage broker near me and didn’t find one. In a late-night moment of weakness and one glass of wine too many, I entered my information into one of those companies that compare rates. Within seconds I had countless phone calls, texts, and emails. After the flurry dissipated, I chose a loan officer who kept following up. I locked in my rate for a refi on the lowest date in history. Did I have a crystal ball? No, but I had years of experience manipulating money regarding real estate financing and running a business.
If I’ve said this once, I’ve said it a dozen times, “I swear I’ve done more closings than my loan officer.”
Planning for your future, you might think of that ten-year-old girl with a dream. Or the 18-year-old starting her first job as a real estate agent. But someone in their sixties, seventies, and eighties needs to plan too.
My ten-year-old self, hands on hips, stood in front of the white louvered bedroom closet, the door wide open. “It could be big enough.”
Wrapping my arms around the dress-up clothes, I lifted the hangers off the bar and dumped them in another closet. The small desk was harder to transfer. I slid it across the pink carpet, turning it to fit into the closet. I straightened it for a perfect fit, picked up a white wooden chair, and heaved it over the desk. Next, I lay on the desk, swung my feet over, and landed on the other side. Standing, I stretched across the desk until my fingers reached between the slats and I pulled the door shut. The sun striped my desk like a zebra. I reached overhead for the string and turned on the light.
Sitting in the chair, I proclaimed, “There! I have my own office now.” From the drawer, I pulled out one of Dad’s black and white composition books and a pen. Inside, I wrote my business plan for dress-up birthday parties.
Since our first home in 1990, I’d find mistakes while reading over my documents (yes, I read them). It happened again. The loan was through a lender I’d never heard of, with a loan officer who worked for a call center. I insisted on using Molly, a woman I knew in the local title agency, for the closing. I could hear the stress in her voice over the phone as she grunted monosyllabic sentences. I’d been binging on daytime TV during the pandemic while Molly had done more business in the past year than she’d done in ten.
I cheerfully commented, “If you need some help, I’ve got nothing to do.” Molly’s boss was conferenced in on the call and yelled, “Yes, get her in!” Molly and her boss were too busy to follow through on hiring me. However, this situation engaged my reticular activator, and the law of attraction did its magic. Once the seed had been planted about me working, I saw flashing signs everywhere. With the refinance complete, my brain stagnated with inactivity again. I exhausted the internet to the point of clicking on AARP ads and reading their online articles where I was informed, for a mere nine dollars annually to join, I’d reap the benefits after using the discount the first time. I did not bite. That felt like admitting I’m old.
Another article talked about becoming a mortgage loan originator. I learned how one could be a loan officer at age 18 or age 80+. This intrigued me. My grandniece had become a loan processor. My online job searches for work-from-home became targeted toward mortgage companies. The stars aligned and shone on me. After gaining training, enduring Federal background checks, and getting licensed, I entered the business as rates rose and layoffs became rampant. Everyone in my market was paying cash and bidding over ask. They weren’t even interested in delayed financing. I thought with my background and my multi-million-dollar market, this would be a piece of cake for me.
No one wore business suits. A tenth of the local phone book consisted of the Willis family after a century of breeding and no one leaving...
Let me first explain why I thought it would be easy.
In my first month as a realtor in 1994, I became the top listing agent in North and South Carolina combined. I achieved this by dialing for dollars. I was living in my dad’s vacation home on the beach. I’d get up, put on a bathing suit, grab the printout from my Excel spreadsheet and the cordless phone. I’d lay on the chaise lounge, tanning myself while listening to the waves. The second my watch said nine o’clock, I’d manually punch in the first phone number on my list. “Hi, this is Ruth Johaningsmeir with Century 21. Have you thought about selling your home?”
“No.” Click.
Next number. “Hi, this is Ruth Johaningsmeir with Century 21. Have you thought about selling your home?” “No.” Click.
Again, and again until someone would pause and say, “Actually, I have.” “Then I must have good timing. Tell me more.” “Oh, my sciatica is acting up again. I’m getting old, and this house is just too big to clean.”
This continued with many of my calls, and I joked that I needed a medical dictionary to understand all the aches and pains of the older ladies answering the phone. One day was a tad different. “Hi, this is Ruth Johaningsmeir with Century 21. Have you thought about selling your home?” “YES!” Shouted a young woman. “Great, I can come over this afternoon and give you a current market analysis or would tomorrow work better for you.” “NOW!” “OK, I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
I scrambled to get dressed in a business suit, hopped in my branded car, and raced the mile to get there, hoping I didn’t smell of coconut oil. This was a resort town during the off-season. No one wore business suits. A tenth of the local phone book consisted of the Willis family after a century of breeding and no one leaving the area. I was from the big city of She-cog-gee and spoke like a Northerner. The woman, who looked like a talk show host or weather girl, answered the door of her mansion. She explained she married a local. He was a real estate developer and knew every real estate agent in the county. They were getting divorced, and she won all the property in the settlement. “I’ll be God-damned if I let any of these local yahoos get a single listing.” I listed a golf course subdivision and erected a billboard with my face on it. That was my first month as a Realtor® in North Carolina. Eventually, I was back calling on the little old ladies. Edith was eighty years old, blind, and living alone. She became my best friend. I heard stories about her famous quilts and her being featured on the cover of a national magazine. Years later, I thought of her whenever I put a flower in the depression-era vase she gave me. When it broke, I cried. Fast forward to this century, and I’m once again living in a resort town year-round. When I moved to Marco Island, Florida, I felt like the youngest one there. All my new friends were twenty years older than me. I also felt like one of the poorest women on the socioeconomic ladder. I couldn’t understand why you would have your home paid in full instead of having liquid assets. Unless you have more money than you know what to do with, why wouldn’t you put it to work for you? We don’t have first-time home buyers on the island. Should I have moved my sales pool of buyers farther north, where there were more mortgages? Being a loan officer is more difficult than I’d imagined. I admit I wasn’t making those calls at 9:00 am every morning as I should have. The year 2022 is the first time in my life I didn’t meet my goals. I’d never failed before. Yet, I don’t see it as a failure, which is how I can say I’ve never failed before. I’ve learned more than I did in college. I’m failing forward. I refused to buy leads or spend big dollars on marketing. My philosophy was bootstrap financing, building relationships, and referral-based business. I handed out Baby Ruth candy bars at open houses, making my name memorable. Realtors pleasantly handed out my beach postcards with my business information. I was playing the long game. I’d walk into an open house a few months later, and the agent would remember me and have my postcards laid out.
I’ve said I’ve pivoted so many times I’m dizzy. When I took the advice to move my fishing pond further north where there were first-time home buyers, Hurricane Ian wiped out many of those homes. I tried mobile homes instead of mansions, but I never stopped fishing in my own backyard. What I needed to do was find my niche. I’ve done that and you can too. Planning for your future, you might think of that ten-year-old girl with a dream. Or the 18-year-old starting her first job as a real estate agent. But someone in their sixties, seventies, and eighties needs to plan too. You have no idea how long you’ll live, when your spouse might die, or what obstacles will block you. Many women in the generation before me didn’t grow up handling finances. Many of them have heard horror stories of someone losing their home. All of them lived through the housing crisis of 2008 and several recessions. Few could have predicted a worldwide pandemic.
My niche is liquidity mortgages and educating those women on reverse mortgages through my fictional tale of retirees navigating the waters of life in Marco Island: Winning the Lottery and soon The Canals of Cape Coral. This year will be my best year ever.
What will your niche be? Are you young and looking forward to buying your first home? Will your ideal customer be first-time homebuyers? Or are you re-inventing yourself after a divorce and seeking other couples transitioning from one home to two? Are you a Veteran wanting to work with families in the military?
Whether you are young or old, find a way to tap into what you know, and you too, will have your best year ever.
Written by Ruth Johaningsmeir
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