Chisel Chips

My wife’s nearly brilliant future career in futzing

My wife loves food. Cooking it, and eating it.

She hates futzing, even though she’s pretty good at doing it.

Expert cooks build temples to their talent — restaurants. What if expert futzers did the same thing? Elevate and celebrate the futz, and it might become a pursuit worthy of actually … pursuing.

My wife’s love of food became abundantly clear after our mid-life relationship blossomed, and we graduated from home-and-away sleepovers to shared residency beneath her roof.

That passion revealed itself in numerous ways. At the time, we both worked in freelance communications. Straight journalism, or marketing copy, or strategic planning. Whatever someone would pay us to do. I enjoyed it, more or less. She hated it.

I enjoyed it more because I didn’t have to wear a tie or commute to my upstairs office. I enjoyed it less because the occasional client would exercise some previously unmentioned clause that meant I wasn’t likely ever to get paid.

Kathy had connections that led to fat contracts, and tackled them with gusto, but it was all pretty Sisyphean for her. It was definitely not futzing.

Only at the end of the day, when she closed her computer, did she lift from her chair like Tinkerbell and flit into the kitchen, eager to make magic happen.

For her, it wasn’t a chore so much as a drug. Most of the time, she would rummage through the fridge and cupboards, pull a bunch of stuff down, start chopping and frying and mixing and blending, and before long, we ate better than most people dining concurrently in the city’s finest restaurants.

She wasn’t born this way. She learned by doing, layering on skills learned from the need to feed her 5-year-old self, and later, from an occasional class, from buying and reading cookbooks, from tapping the culinary zeitgeist.

Pre-Internet, she had subscribed to, and collected several years of Bon Appetit magazine. Filed them in those magazine storage boxes, indexed by year and month. At some point in the past, she had gone through each issue and logged information about cuisine and recipes and seasons onto index cards. Then, if she wanted a squash recipe for Thanksgiving, she would know which issue to pull and consult.

As you must gather, this dedication betrays a little more than what most would think of when someone calls themselves a “foodie.” Or a futzer.

My wife has never called herself a foodie. She prefers “chef.” She earned it, not after writing a check to the Culinary Institute of America, but after acceding to my supportive urgings, and opening not one but two restaurants.

Kathy is a bit like a border collie. She needs a job. She is not happy, lying around the house, chewing on rawhide.

“I love getting up early and getting out for a run like this,” she said today, as we embarked on a run at 9 a.m. “I hate futzing around all morning and showing up at the trail around 11.”

Even though we sold our last restaurant three years ago, she has morphed into a cooking collie. Like a collie eager for a cat to pass (and chase), she looks for cooking gigs to chase. It keeps her out of trouble, and few people call the cops when she shows up in the kitchen and turns out surpassingly edible grub.

Without the dog whistle of a restaurant and its myriad demands, she can sometimes drift into futzing. Such a great word. It means that one is “wasting time.” But Kathy applies it to things that, basically, are not cooking. If she is not cooking, she is futzing. Reading books. Browsing the web. Sewing napkins. Arranging flowers or talking to her son on the phone or planning little social events.

All that is essential, yet she thinks it secondary to the primary thing in life — cooking. I am inclined to encourage her greater attention to futzing, since that is more of what life promises in our 60s and beyond.

Imagine, striving to become the world’s best futzer. Hours spent in pursuit of epic futzation. A web site devoted to famous futzers. Record-length futz sessions, remarkable for the sustained indolence.

Instead of belittling it, imagine celebrating it. She could travel the country, talking to famous futzers, posting videos of those interviews, sharing common techniques, building Top 10 Snacks for Futzing.

That last one, of course, would lead her back to cooking, and far from futzing.

I thought this futz-a-thon was a great idea. Then I remembered. We already have a world dedicated to the celebration of futzing: Social media.

Despite spreading propaganda and fake news, social media is basically about people sharing the hairballs of their lives. “Hi, Friends, today I futzed around with the cat. Tomorrow, … well, who knows.”

Futzing is like that. No agendas, no pressure, just aimless, idle drift, from one room to another in search of nothing in particular. The Zen-like joy of futzing descends onto one’s shoulders at the point that we realize futzing is a goal unto itself. Flow into the futz, and the futz will reward you with a state of futzana.

When you realize you’re going nowhere, but enjoying the trip just the same,  you have done the nearly impossible — turned nothing into something. You’d be surprised to find out how many people shared your interests in futzing, and would love to meet and spend time with you, sharing tales of your respective futzing.

Don’t knock it until you haven’t tried it.

The looming threat of the DIY real estate sales person (i.e. the owner)

Some of my best friends are Realtors. I just might be less than happy if my daughter were to marry one.

Had to share a link with y’all. This came to my attention, because I’ve found myself in the very interesting place of taking on a real estate sale “by owner.”

Imagine that.

The owner.

Selling something the owner owns.

Without the help of a Realtor.

In doing so, I have learned that the current real estate sales model — an industry dominated by the Realtors — may be the next to experience significant digital disruption.

First the travel industry. Then news. And on through music and radio and movies (not to mention movie theaters, killed by VHS and DVD and phones with movies stuffed inside).

As I embarked on this adventure, I found myself sharing the plan. With a lot of people. And everyone with whom I spoke is disenchanted with the longtime real estate sales model that carves 6 or 7 percent from the closing price. That’s $12K on a $200K house, but $36K on a house that sells for 3x? The only difference? Sales price. The buyer and seller and agents all do the same dog and pony, offer, counter-offer, contingencies, yada yada.

So, what makes one deal worth $12K (as if), and the other worth $36K (WTF, right?)

What, in fact, makes any deal worth anywhere near that amount of money? As entry fees to carnival sideshows go. real estate commissions top them all. It’s an exclusive club of wand-wielding sorcerers, uniquely equipped to … meet humans, listen to humans, drive humans, and show humans your property.

Oh, thank you, real estate industry. I couldn’t do THAT, MYSELF. Oh, really?

After decades of charging us to entrust the sale of our assets to them (without which assets, they would have nothing to sell), we now have numerous digital upstart startups providing us a public and inexpensive entry to the inner sanctum. It’s called fixed-fee listing.

With the company I chose, I paid $95 for a listing on the Multiple Listing Service. Another $100 got me signs and some extra photos on my listing web site. If we sell the home for its listed price of $575,000, I’ll have saved $17,000 in listing agent fees by the time we find a buyer, assuming the buyer comes to us through the efforts of an agent working to show them homes. Twice that amount saved if we find the buyer ourselves and handle all the closing without professional help.

A week into this, we have had three serious looks and have two more scheduled. It’s a good property. I’m confident we will find a buyer, in short order. Most of the work will be done then by the escrow company. They get their fees, but it’s nowhere near $17,000, the listing-agent’s slice, divided with his or her broker.

Most people I talk with are fairly smart, and figure that they could gather and prepare the details of a listing. And if a fixed-fee real estate agent offers a much lower path to placing my property on the MLS, and by extension, numerous real estate web sites (Zillow, Realtor, Redfin etc.), why would I not tilt that way? The seller is always involved in negotiating a contract price, so why the need for an intermediary?

Circumstances come to mind in which an agent could provide huge value. Say you and your family have to move, quickly, to take a new job in a distant city. You need to sell your house, but can’t wait around to do it yourself. Hire an agent. Get on with it.

But if it’s a local sale, and if (as I do, in semi-retirement) you have the time, and even better, if you have moved from the property into another house four doors away, well, what’s not to love about that scenario for a DIY deal?

In short, most of us have the smarts and digital tools to FSBO. So? The real estate industry apparently views FSBO types as some sort of unwashable caste, traitors to the established order, heathens at the castle walls.

An escrow agent told me that many of traditional agencies — and their agents — will not show FSBO listings to people who are looking for a home, even though the home appears on the multiple listing service.

So, if you are looking for a home with the help of an agent mining the MLS, you don’t see everything, because your agent is pissed that some sellers chose not to pay $18,000 for someone to spend an hour getting photos, and another pulling comps, and a third entering home data for the MLS.

I know there is more to the job than that. Even so, at a full day or two (as if anyone could take that long), the listing agent could walk away from your property after it pops to the MLS, and pocket $1,000 an hour after some other agent actually sells your house. But even that person gets a share of the other 3%, for what could be just one showing. Pretty sweet.

As the seller, you pay handsomely … only after the home changes hands. Who has incentive to make that happen quickly? The sales agent. Pushing or defending a higher price can only delay a quick close (and commission). So they feel strong financial pressure to close the deal, on the seller’s back (buyers pay none of the commission), by urging price reduction or concessions to the potential buyer.

It’s got to be threatening to legacy Realtors, for sellers increasingly to realize they can list their home and negotiate sales terms themselves — and save a ton of money.

To find out how industries once familiar and healthy have gone belly-up before, just talk with a newspaper publisher from the 1990s, or a travel agency owner, or someone who once sold books and CDs from a four-wall store.

Those were the days.

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