Recently I was in rural South Carolina to meet a man about some land. It was pouring rain, and I was pretty sure the meeting was going to be a bust. This guy had called me out of the blue wanting to talk about a piece of property he had. It was a nice recreational tract in the path of progress – about 300 acres on the Catawba River and full of deer, turkeys, and foxes. The owner and I had had multiple talks in 2008 about this property, which his family had owned since the Civil War. At that time, I was assembling 3,000 acres for Newland Communities, and his property would have made a logical acquisition for Newland. Best I could tell, he rarely ventured beyond his property line. I was given the impression that he would never sell.

So I’m driving in the cold, dark rain, thinking I’m going to be spending a day of my time to meet with someone who in the past has made it clear he wasn’t going to sell, and even if he was, he’d given the impression he was going to be difficult. This was not how I wanted to spend my day. It reminded me of what my father always told me, that real estate is “an industry of crushing defeats and soaring victories.” And of how being in real estate takes “pluck and mettle,” and this journey was illustrating this concept to me clearly.

I thought about the scene I was driving into: a meeting with a gruff guy who would take a lot of my time, and most likely my patience. And there was certainly no guarantee of any payoff. Instead of thinking about what else I should be or wanted to be doing, I decided to try to enjoy the task at hand.

Here are tricks I’ve used to transform my thinking when I’m stuck on a painful, or potentially bad, real estate assignment.

  1. Acknowledge that sometimes biases can slow you down. Often a bias is learned from valuable life lessons and serves you well. However, it may be time to check your thinking and be open minded.
  2. Recall when you were surprised when someone came through for you when you didn’t think that they would. I remembered that I had this exact type of bias on a transaction that led to a $24M disposition. It was also a call from an unlikely source.
  3. Accept that this is just part of being a success in life. I am a goal setter and I have big ambitions for my family, my career, and my friends of the firm. If these goals are going to be achieved, I will kiss my fair share of frogs.
  4. Finally, relax and accept that this assignment is not about me. Focus on appreciating the fact that I have been given this opportunity to help a client. Be thankful for the chance to share some of the wisdom that I have gained by being in the business for 25 years to help another.

I used the drive time to get caught up on the “Leading Voices in Real Estate” podcast I’ve been meaning to listen to and my attitude changed from being admittedly grumpy to one that was more open to possibility. I had also become at peace with the idea that the entire day could be a waste of time.

Turns out that the old cranky guy was a saint in overalls. He shared with me that for the past 16 years he had been taking care of his mother who had dementia, and he felt the move would not be good for her. She had recently died, and he decided he would sell and move to the mountains. Our meeting went much better than I had expected, and we agreed to work together. Ultimately, we sold the property for nearly twice what he thought he would get when he called me on the phone. He was thrilled, and I felt that I contributed to a positive change in his life.

The same week we closed that deal I happened to sign a 60,000 square-foot office lease with Charter Communications. Financially, that was a bigger deal, but emotionally, the deal I’ll remember more warmly was working with the mountain man. The last time I saw him, I brought him a bottle of Champagne with a ribbon tied around it, and his eyes lit up with excitement. I referred him to a Realtor friend in Boone, NC, who is helping him buy a new home in the hills, and now he refers to me as his “good friend, John.”