What Exactly Is the Connection?
Following the publication of articles in 2009 by Bloomberg Businessweek, examiner.com, the San Francisco Chronicle and others upon the launch of this website, while veg(etari)ans understandably "got it,"
a number of readers who identified themselves as non-vegetarians expressed dismay in the comments section as to how the practice of vegetarianism could possibly be relevant to the professional services offered by a real estate broker. I didn't originally go into this in great detail on the website's home page, mainly because I didn't want the text there to be any longer than it absolutely had to be. Time and attention spans are limited—and increasingly so, as numerous studies tell us.
Recently, to complete a profile at VegListings.com, I was asked, "How do your views affect your life?" This prompted me to answer in some detail the question that a number of non-vegetarians had posted in the comments section of various articles and blogs. The reality is probably that most vegetarians and vegans don't need any more information than what is already given on the home page here, while many non-vegetarians (especially those who dislike vegetarianism) will never be satisfied with whatever answer I give, no matter how detailed and well-conceived it may be. But for those who are genuinely interested in what I have to say on the matter, I offer the answer I uploaded to my profile at VegListings.com:
Refraining from cruelty and violence (physical and non-physical), in all realms, while cultivating the associated value of EMPATHY—the guiding principles behind a vegetarian and vegan lifestyle—naturally leads to an approach to life that differs from many of the standard ways of doing things. There is a common misconception in our culture that a favorable outcome ("winning") can only be achieved by vanquishing the other party (our "opponent"). Vanquishing means defeating or at least getting the better of someone. Although this type of adversarial approach represents the prevailing attitude in the world of real estate, it is more than simply inferior to an approach that is collaborative and cooperative in nature. An adversarial approach can be downright counterproductive and even dangerous. I say this based on more than a quarter century of practical, in-the-trenches experience.
How can an adversarial approach be counterproductive and even dangerous, in spite of what might appear on the surface to be "victory" (the desired contractual outcome)? To illustrate, let me simplify a story from many years ago. I once represented buyers in the purchase of a North Bay vineyard. The sellers were clearly in a "distressed" situation. The economy had turned in a way that made it difficult for them to continue to keep their financing in place. The pool of buyers for something like a vineyard is of course much smaller than the pool of buyers for a residential property, especially a "bread-and-butter" (non-luxury) home and especially when times are lean. This obliged the vineyard owners to sell at a price significantly below what would otherwise have been considered fair market value.
But this was not good enough for the buyers. They insisted on extracting various additional concessions, to the point that from the sellers' perspective, the terms of the transaction were downright onerous, even if they were not illegal. I did my best to persuade the buyers that the potential ramifications of this approach, including the loss of GOODWILL, may well in the long run outweigh any potential benefits for them. The buyers, by the way, represented themselves as observant Buddhists and vegetarians. But they were determined to figuratively squeeze every last drop of blood they possibly could from the sellers. My appeals to their best long-term interests fell upon deaf ears.
The buyers were outsiders, both to the area and the vineyard industry. Had goodwill been preserved, the sellers could have rendered them invaluable assistance, with regard to sharing information and contacts with them. Quite understandably, the sellers elected not to do so. Moreover, I subsequently learned that someone in the sellers' party, out of anger, had sabotaged some aspects of the operation, in such a way that they could not be identified or held responsible for the problems that transpired.
The point is that the buyers, even though they thought they were coming out "on top" by extracting every single concession they possibly could from the sellers, experienced a net, long-term loss, as a result of their inhumane, "zero-sum game" approach. And this loss was actually quite substantial.
A commercial property such as a vineyard is different in some important ways from a single-family home. In terms of the trade-offs involved with an adversarial approach, however, the lesson still applies. As Isaac Bashevis Singer once observed, "People have so many emotions: Even a pauper is a millionaire in emotions." Real estate transactions bring out emotions in people, strong emotions, regardless of the dollar amount involved. Even though the sellers in this case had effectively become paupers, they were millionaires in terms of their emotions, as Singer had accurately perceived. And their emotions prompted them to act in ways that were disadvantageous to the buyers, over which the buyers had no control and against which they had no recourse.
In a real estate transaction, there are so many things that go on behind the scenes, at so many different levels and on so many dimensions, things that parties to the transaction may never become fully aware of but that will affect them nonetheless. If before moving, to take a simple example, the sellers tell all their neighbors what ruthless, unethical people the buyers are, how might that affect the buyers' integration into the neighborhood, including the experience of any young children involved? If a dollar value were assigned to just this one aspect of negative word-of-mouth, might it not at least largely offset any monetary value accrued by one-upmanship in the negotiation process?
And let us not think that a collaborative approach serves only the interest of buyers, for this is certainly not the case, even though I won't go into great detail on that aspect at this time, as that would be the subject of another essay. But let me offer just one quick example from the sellers' perspective, citing the story of a couple in Redwood City who, thankfully, did follow my advice to be decent to the buyers when selling their upscale home and refrained from driving an excessively hard bargain, even though circumstances may well have allowed them to do so.
After escrow closed, title transferred and the sellers moved out of state, they discovered that they had left behind in their former residence a trunk of family heirlooms. Stored in the corner of a large closet, the trunk had actually been easy to miss, not visible from the room when looking into the closet. We all know how easy it is in the commotion of moving to miss something like that. To the sellers, that trunkload of family heirlooms was priceless. There would simply not have been any way to assign a meaningful monetary value to those possessions, which would have been irreplaceable, causing them (especially the wife's mother, who lived with them), emotional distress for years to come.
The buyers could have easily claimed that there was no such trunk in the house when they took possession, in which case the sellers would have just been out of luck, with no recourse to ever recover it. And if the transaction had been highly adversarial, things certainly might have worked out that way. But fortunately, representing both parties in the transaction had put me in the position of being able to encourage civility in a way that would not have been possible had another agent been involved. Civility and decency translated into goodwill, which led to the prompt return of that trunk of precious family heirlooms to the sellers, who witnessed in a very profound sense how taking the high road in the sale of their property rewarded them in a way that was tangible, direct and even immediate. (To those who argue against dual agency, the real estate broker representing both parties in the transaction, there is a point to be made here, too, but I will refrain from expanding on that at this time.)
So even for someone who does not believe in "karma" or the idea that "what goes around comes around," even for someone who has no qualms from an ethical or religious standpoint with taking excessive advantage of someone, there are very practical reasons to support the practice of behaving decently toward fellow human beings, showing empathy, and observing The Golden Rule.
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (a popularized version of words attributed to Jesus of Nazareth, via Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31) or at least, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow" (from the Talmud, Shabbat 31a). As various scholars have pointed out, this is a concept that is present in every major religion and almost any ethical tradition.
Whether you are a buyer or a seller, observing this principle will for one thing do more than just about anything else—apart from full disclosure, which is actually just another manifestation of the same principle—to reduce your chances of having to deal with litigation down the road. Anyone who has ever been involved in litigation will attest that it is one of the least pleasant and least productive ways to spend your time.
Getting back to the original question as to how eschewing cruelty and violence (physical and non-physical) affects my life and informs my professional practice, I would say that my understanding with regard to the clear advantages of a non-adversarial approach—a natural outgrowth of a true "pro-life" orientation—definitely benefits whomever I work with, at various levels and in a multitude of ways, some obvious and others not so obvious.
To summarize: Shunning cruelty and violence, while cultivating the associated value of empathy (key principles of vegetarianism), naturally leads to a preference for an approach that is cooperative and collaborative, rather than adversarial in nature. This accrues to the advantage of both buyers and sellers, as illustrated in the stories told above. This explains the relevance of vegetarianism with regard to the practice of real estate. It explains why a vegan or vegetarian in particular might appreciate working with a vegan real estate broker, apart from the aspect of likemindedness. It also explains how anyone, including non-vegetarians, can benefit from the approach described above.
For anyone genuinely interested in how vegetarianism relates to the practice of real estate, I hope the thoughts on this page serve as clarification.
Pacific Century Realty