We sold our house on Tuesday. An end to a lot of timelines. Twenty five years in Chicago. Fifteen years in our home. Eighteen months on the market. Two months of negotiation.
I’ve done a lot of deals in the last few years. There weren’t any harder than this. We walked away a number of times. Initially on price - until our broker told us it was this or wait a year. And then increasingly on dignity.
Change is one thing. Capitulation on someone else’s terms is another.
If you are in a situation that you have decided must be changed, creating the conditions in which you can overcome your own fears is critical.
You have to burn your ships. But you also have to make sure you’re not relying on third party, fourth-hand information to make decisions. Humility is a scarce and valuable resource in a negotiation and it evaporates quickly as we sense we are losing control. Add not being heard to the equation and it disappears entirely.
For a while on this occasion we let brokers and lawyers do all the talking. Then our broker did a very smart thing. She humanized us. She asked me to send her an email outlining our view of the deal. Then she passed that on to their broker. Who of course passed it on to the buyer. We got a response, and suddenly each of us was dealing with a human being.
In every future deal I do, I’m insisting on talking directly to the other side. No exceptions. I blogged about this a few weeks ago.
In the heat of an emotional battle, mostly with oneself, it's hard to take even the best advice. But one of the benefits of writing this blog is that it puts what I think down in black on white. It’s hard to ignore that.
Seventeen days ago, we received an email from the buyer's lawyer via ours. It accused us of being liars. I may be a lot of things but telling lies comes very, very hard. I can remember every untruth I’ve ever told. And they haunt me. Needless to say, the accusation went down very badly.
As far as I was concerned, that was it. They weren’t getting my house. My home. My lifeboat. Not those people. Not dead.
Lawyers don’t do deals. You do.
I went back and re-read my blog. Then I re-read the buyer’s email. Its tone did not match his lawyer’s. I see that a lot. Lawyers with big egos thrashing about to make an impression. Often it has the inverse effect to the one their client is hoping for. At best it’s boorish. At worst it’s deal ending. Most of them get paid regardless. I’d rather pay for results than bombastic letters.
Chris and I decided to heed my own advice. We invited the buyer and his family to come to the house so that we could show them round in person, take them through its eccentricities and explain the work we were doing to ensure we handed it over in the best possible condition.
This strategy was not universally supported. In fact we couldn’t find anyone who agreed with it. But we were convinced of two things. Transparency is a powerful lubricant. And the only behavior you can control is your own. If we acted honorably at least we had one foundation we could lean on.
It was a turning point. The instant we met we knew we had sold to the right people. They love our house as we do. And when I handed over the keys for the final time, the fear I felt was not for the future of our former home.
The last few days have been extraordinary emotional. Much more so than I had imagined. And the sense of loss is profound. Twenty-five years is more than half my life. And 650 West Hutchinson Street was the first home in which love was more than just a word to me.
Those are hard things to give up consciously in the belief that the future is better met elsewhere. And on one level, by leaving Chicago and my home behind, I feel I have betrayed places that have given me so much.
But the fact is life had become too easy. Too rhythmic. Too settled. And that is not a foundation for growth and exploration.
And so I step out into the storm and face the unknown. Grateful beyond words for the past I have lived. And hopeful for the possibilities that tomorrow will bring.