To properly understand what it was like to be a Realtor in the early 90’s, imagine heading to work and leaving your cell phone and computer behind. Basically, no contact with customers, family, or co-workers unless you are in the office, calling from a pay phone, or at home with a landline. Communication was clearly the toughest challenge and was time-consuming.
I was licensed in 1991. Initially, the only means of communication with customers and fellow agents was my landline at home or the office landlines. If you were not available at either location, the office admin would take a message, write it on a pink “While You Were Out” form, and place it in your mailbox. If you were out of the office for the day, you needed to stop by the office before going home to pick up your messages. I heard other agents calling back to the office for their messages, but the Admin was always so busy that I tried to just run by and pick up my messages.
We carried a pager that would notify us if we had a voicemail message on our landline at the office. Eventually, they upgraded the pager to include a telephone number that we needed to call. You would either use a pay phone or find a landline somewhere to use if you were showing houses or on the road. How did you know about properties for sale? We had an MLS Book that was published monthly. Every realtor paid for an MLS Book, and we couldn’t wait until the first of the month to get a new one. What happens if you have a new listing during the month? You typed up an information sheet, made 500+ copies, and drove by real estate offices to drop them off. In those days, the office managers would let you go to the mailboxes of the office agents and insert information sheets of your new listings. If you were lucky, the office admin would allow you to also leave a stack on her desk.
MLS Books had a photo of the front of the house if they were available at the time of printing. No interior photos were ever published. When I had a nice listing, I would photograph the house, have the photos developed, select the ones that I liked and purchase 50 prints or so of each. I would glue them on nice cardstock and attach them to the information sheet of my listing. Those 50 copies were distributed to agents that I felt might have a buyer for my listing. Having numerous listings made this a very time-consuming process. Enough that I hired an assistant to handle most of this for me. The cost of film, developing that film, and having copies made was approximately $500-600/month.
Comps? Oh my…how do I find a history of other sales in the neighborhood? How do I know what a house sold for? The back of the MLS book had sold listings. Days on the market; asking price and sold price. A book was published at the end of the year with all the sales and statistics. Throughout the year, you had to keep those books handy if you needed comps for a new listing or advising a buyer on a fair price to offer. Oops…I left the books at the office, and I need them. Trip back to the office, or you just remembered to keep everything in your trunk, copies of listing agreements, contract-to-purchase forms, MLS books, and printouts that agents have dropped off with new listings. I had so many 3 ring binders and thick folders with historical information!
How did you get entry to the houses? You scheduled an appointment by calling the agent or the office admin, then you arranged to pick up a key at the agent’s office and, of course, dropped off that key later in the day after the showing. If you were lucky, the seller would be home and open the door for you. Sometimes, they would hide a key or leave the door unlocked.
Offers? We didn’t have the internet, so the offers were always handwritten, and you met with your customers in person for signatures—their office, your office, their home, the hood of a car, Mcdonald’s—wherever and whenever you could get signatures. Then, you find a landline to call the listing agent to find out where they would like the offer delivered. Hopefully, they were available to answer the phone; if not, you drove it to their office and placed it in their mailbox or in the mail slot in the door if after hours.
Around 1991 or 1992, I purchased a factory-installed cellular telephone for my Lexus sedan. There was a bulky transmitter unit in the trunk, an external antenna, and a large handset that was hardwired into the car. My first one was attached to the center console. The second one was installed in the compartment under the center armrest. Such a luxury—except it was very expensive. My monthly cell phone bills averaged $750-800/month. As a young Mom and busy Realtor, I considered it a luxury and a necessity well worth the money.
I want to revisit the way that offers were/are handled. As Realtors, we all know that an accepted contract requires delivery to all parties. Today, we understand that “delivery” means that the final acceptance can be delivered in the same manner as we delivered the initial offer, counteroffers, etc. By email or text, probably. When you do everything by delivering a hard copy, that means when you get that final signature on a contract, you want to deliver it as quickly as possible to the other party, so you have an “accepted contract,” and they can’t accept any other offers that might cause your customer to lose out on the deal—or the other party changes their mind and rescinds. What did that look like in the 90’s? You put your young child to bed, ask your husband/older child/neighbor to watch your child/household, and you head out to get initials and deliver that contract. We all know how many offers are negotiated at night—that’s when most of our customers are available.
One more fun tidbit—most real estate offices had an agent on “floor duty” throughout the day and often evening hours. Buyers either relied on yard signs, friends, or their Realtor to get information on new listings. It was very common for buyers to call or stop by a real estate office for information. If you were a new agent in the business or interested in working with new customers, this was a great way to meet new people. When I first started in the business, I signed up for as many hours at the floor duty desk as possible. As we all do, I would talk about my day with my husband and young son—probably mentioning how my floor duty went that day. One day, I happened to mention that I needed to leave soon to show a house to a potential customer and would be returning home late. My son really wanted to play another game of Monopoly and suggested that I stay at home. I said something along the lines of “this will be my first sale, and I haven’t earned any money since starting in real estate—so this is an important appointment.” He responded with, “Mom, they don’t pay you for mopping floors?”