If you’ve been keeping up with me (in one way or another) you know that I’ve been on a rather prolonged hiatus from writing, social media, and online activities in general. But it wasn’t because I was done with writing, creative or editorial.
Quite the contrary.
I wanted to write like none other. From crypto to Apple’s staggering feat of reaching the coveted trillion dollar valuation, there were so many things I wanted to talk about. But, alas, my personal life caught up with me, and I needed a bit of room to breathe.
Today, I’m glad to state, that my life is more or less back in order. Moreover, I’ve learnt a few things here and there. Today, this is what I want to talk about — the short, but arduous journey that I embarked on for the past 2 months, and what I got out of the whole ordeal.
The start of my journey actually started far before the 2 months, back at the turn of the year, February to be precise. My parents decided they were going to move. It was a move they’ve been contemplating for years, but it was this year that they just so happened to pull the trigger. Unfortunately for them, this was the year that Toronto’s real estate market began began its cooling off.
To be fair, the market was long overdue for a correction. Housing prices for all property types have been rising for over a decade, and were pushing well into record territory. The low interest rates set off by the great recession only added fuel to the fire. Couple that with favorable conditions offered by the banks to new immigrants, and the real estate market really did feel like it only had one direction — up.
Then, as many know, interest rates went up. Not just in Canada, but in the US, EU, across the globe. Couple that with the devaluation of the Canadian dollar, and increased taxation against foreign buyers in Toronto’s real estate market, and the conditions were ripe for a market correction.
Had we sold our house before all this, before purchasing a new property, none of this would have posed any threat. In fact, it would have been a boon for our finances, had we sold our home in 2017. Unfortunately for my parents, and for thousands of sellers in the GTA, we had missed our opportunity. We ended up purchasing the new home before we could sell our old one, and, perhaps more worryingly, we found ourselves in debt for the first time in my memory.
Then, things turned for the worse when my parents, misfortune by their side, were involved in an accident when their car was hit by a driver running a red light. Thankfully they weren’t too injured in the crash — just shock and soreness — but the car was totaled in the process.
We quickly found ourselves facing a looming disaster — two houses, no buyer, and an accident that needed taking care of.
So there were two problems, broadly speaking:
- Our old home wasn’t selling.
- One of our cars were totaled and needed replacing.
First thing to do was break down these problems into solutions:
- We need to sell our home.
- We need to buy a new car.
Then it was time to break down each solution into actionable plans.
Selling the home was an easy problem to get started on. There was already a well known template for me to work with, which helped expedite the process. The process is as follows:
- Find a listing agent
- Negotiate terms
- List the home
- Negotiate price
- Sell the home
Easy right? Well, not quite.
The main problem was we were already undergoing the process when I stepped in to take the helm. Problem was, it wasn’t working. It had been a bit less than 3 months with this listing agent, and we weren’t seeing any traction with the home. Moreover, the lack of communication from the agent made it nigh impossible for me to figure out where the problem was — with the house, or with the agent.
To be fair, the property was showing its age a tad bit, and it definitely could have benefited with some work, but the agent provided little to no feedback regarding the matter.
I figured it was probably best to get a second opinion. I began to shop around for real estate agents, doing due diligence to see their track record regarding communication and feedback — at least then we would be able to diagnose problems accurately.
The agent I managed to find at the end was more than what I had hoped for. The level of communication was more than transparent — it made me feel like I was micromanaging the whole process. Starting on the first meeting, before we signed any papers, he brought us more market data than any other agent. He backed every claim he made with solid, up to date numbers. Most importantly, however, he had a plan of attack, and contingencies for most, if not all, possible outcomes.
It was then up to me to talk my parents into signing with him and his team. I compared him with the other agents, particularly with our previous listing agent, to show this decision was the right one to make. But as I was making strides in convincing them of this, another problem began to arise.
My parents and I were at a fundamental disagreement with the timing of the sale.
My parents thought that the housing market had hit rock bottom, and that they could sell the property for a lot more if they could hold out and service the debt (incurred from the purchase of the new home). My belief was that the Toronto housing market would take far longer to appreciate, and that the level of debt was far too high for us to be able to hold out.
This problem had an interesting solution to it — maintenance.
Homes require maintenance, not just of the home, but also the ground upon which it lays. The lawn turned out to be the deal breaker for my parents, who were looking to divest themselves from the house, and more into travel. Having two homes meant tying them up in Toronto for the foreseeable future. I used this, in tandem with my other arguments, to bring the negotiations to a close.
And with that, we had found ourselves a new listing agent.
With the new listing agent, we were able to diagnose the problems we had with our property. His staging specialist pointed out problems regarding the interior, while he made certain proposals for the exterior and the lawn. We took said advice to heart, and took to the home. A few days after we finished, we had an offer. Two days later, both parties signed, and a week from then, all conditions were waived.
The house was finally sold.
The simple process to getting a new car is as follows:
- Pick a vehicle class
- Compare vehicles within said class
- Test drive shortlist of candidates
- Compare financing and incentive offers from dealers who sell said vehicles
Except, when it comes to an accident, there are a couple of added steps:
- File an accident report
- Get your vehicle appraised
- If vehicle is NOT TOTALED, then attain invoice for necessary repairs
- If vehicle is TOTALED, then attain invoice for repairs and upgrades performed over the past 12 months
- Send necessary documentation pertaining to step 3 or 4 to insurance adjuster
- Collect settlement cheque
And, if you add a rental car to this process, the number of steps increases yet again:
- Check local rental car branches to see which branch offers the vehicle you seek
- Book a rental car through your insurance policy making sure to double check the mileage and dollar allowances for your specific policy
Simple right? Once again, not quite Though the rules seem straight forward, there were issues that made this process less than amicable.
First, there was the adjuster. He contacted us once over a period of two months, via email, to introduce himself. Now this may not be a problem, had he communicated with someone else to speak for him on his behalf. Unfortunately, no one from either the company or the brokerage helped us in the whole process. The lack of communication caused a couple of issues, chief among which was budgeting for the new vehicle. But a more pressing, direct problem arose when it came time to return our rental car.
See, at the time of our accident, the insurance company informed us that our policy covered up to $2,000 of rental charge occurrences, with a mileage allowance of 2,000 Km. This was, therefore, our assumption in driving the rental car.
NOTE: we double checked this fact with the rental office when we confirmed our rental.
When we returned the car, however, we were informed that the insurance company only agreed to cover $900 worth of charges — less than half of what we had been told. Thankfully an email to the adjuster cleared it all up, but we were taken aback nonetheless.
Insurance aside, the process of buying a car in and of itself was rather cumbersome, especially having to deal with individual dealerships. It turned out, step 4 in purchasing a new car had a few details hidden within it.
Dealing With Dealers
Car dealers are notorious for shady practices. Just check any online forum discussion on car dealerships. That’s because car dealers aren’t operated by the automobile manufacturers, but are separate enterprises with their own interests. Moreover, there are lobbyists in place in every jurisdiction to protect dealership interests.
But that’s not what I’m interested in here. I want to take a moment to talk about how to approach car dealers in negotiations. Because there’s a lot to be learnt here, especially if you’re looking to work in business.
First, car dealers are people, too. What I mean by this is that they, too, have emotions. If you start putting emotions into these negotiations, then you put their pride on the line as well. And, when that’s the case, no one wins. During our negotiations process, there were times when my father would speak in an accusatory tone. And, every time, the dealers face turned sour, and his tone, defensive. It was, then, my job to ease the tensions, and get people back on amicable terms. That’s when business gets done — when people are willing to listen to each other. That’s also when dealers become candid with you, presenting their margins (based on experience, yours may vary), and showing you the best course of action to deal with their managers.
Second, and I cannot stress this enough, is that though individual car dealers may care about you as a customer (if you treat them with respect), the organization of the dealership does not. To put it simply, understanding the dealer is one thing, giving into the dealership is another. The salesman (dealer) we dealt with was a great man. I appreciate everything he’s done to make the deal go through. I also understand that he’s but a salesman, and he has to help his organization, too. I don’t agree, however, that I be taken advantage of to maximize profits for his organization, nor do I agree that he push options on me that I do not need, because his organization demands it.
This actually comes into play with the finance manager, who talks to you about extended warranties, and rust protection for your vehicle right before you sign the contract. Your chivalry to your salesman need not be extended to the finance manager. It would even apply if the salesman was the one talking you into extended warranties and rust protection — you came here to talk about vehicles. Maintenance is another agenda all together.
Over the past few months, I’ve had a tumultuous journey, and it wasn’t always readily apparent that I was learning things that would help in my career development. While preparing to write this retrospective, I’ve realized there are a lot of things that I learnt about business, and dealing with people in general, that I wouldn’t have learnt had I not gone through all this.
First is about communication. Obviously communication is key when it comes to any form of business. But the term communication is thrown around so much it seems to have lost all its meaning. To me, based on what I’ve experienced, communication is about listening; letting the other person express their opinions; making them feel appreciated. If you listen, and deliver on what the counterparty expresses, then you build credit with them. It’s something people miss when negotiating, or even in daily life. If you don’t listen, all you’re doing is forcing your view down someone else’s throat.
Moreover, listening is not simply hearing. It’s an active task, where you take the message and turn it into action. When someone expresses concerns about a term in a contract, simply hearing them out doesn’t address their concern. You have to acknowledge the issue and come up with a suitable compromise, or solution. That’s listening.
The biggest problem our original sales rep for the house had was that he only heard us, but he didn’t listen. He didn’t act upon our concerns, nor did he explain the situation to ease our concerns. He only heard us, and he moved on. The new agent showed us how to address the concerns we had, and then got it solved.
Our car salesman only showed me the true margins of the dealership when I acknowledged that he was just a cog in the dealership machine. I showed him that I was willing to talk my parents into signing for the car if he, too, was willing to convince his organization to come to a deal. In the end, we signed for the vehicle, at a price my parents are happy with today.
Second, the answer may be hiding in plain sight — try the easiest answer, and then move on. My parents agreed to sell the house, simply because they didn’t want the burden of maintaining two homes. The insurance adjuster cleared everything with the rental car company, and sent us our settlement cheque after a simple email correspondence (albeit there was an interesting discussion there). It never hurts to try the easiest option in real life — just do it.
Third, and it’s a point I cannot stress enough, is that everything has an answer. The answer may be nigh impossible to come by, and may take generations to find, but eventually it does have an answer. And when you take things in stride, you’ll realize that you’ve reached your goal in no time. When I first got involved with the problem, my parents were all but exhausted from the stress. They weren’t enjoying life anymore — it had become a burden. I, too, was stressed because their stress translated to a rigid environment at home. But those problems had an answer. If you just try to find solutions to the small problems first, and take everything step by step, eventually you answer the greater whole.
Was this an easy experience? Definitely not, especially since the results aren’t something I can communicate on my resume. But it’s something I don’t regret doing, and I’m even glad happened. I’ll admit, looking back, this was a tough year for me, and this was the icing on that cake. But, boy, was the cake good when it was all said and done.