February 24, 2024

Real Estate Journeys

Navigating Property Ventures

An Open Letter to the Real Estate Agent Who Assumed I Was the Housekeeper

4 min read

Dear Ambitious Real Estate Agent,

It was the leggings, wasn’t it? I didn’t plan on buying them, but my daughter’s best friend’s mom was hosting a pop-up shopping party, and I found myself powerless to resist those six peppy syllables. All the other moms were telling me they felt like butter, a sensation I had not considered possible or desirable in a pair of pants. Have you ever tried to rinse butter off your fingers?

I was going to pick the least offensive one—solid army green—but this was a “party.” Fuck it. For eighteen dollars, I parted the racks and reached for the most garish pattern. I planned to tone it down with a chunky, oversized black turtleneck sweater and add Doc Martens for a subtle punk vibe.

But I didn’t.

That day you rang my doorbell in your gray suit, I had casually tossed on a nautically inspired red and navy striped boatneck T-shirt, ready for a day of marketing meetings on Zoom. On top, I was a preppy lady who might say, “Let’s take the boat out this weekend, Brock,” and on the bottom, I was… outrageously comfortable. Put together, I resembled my power-clashing Asian aunties and their Mahjong posse in Chinatown. They have zero fucks to give. It’s an attitude I aspire to, but right now, I still care. A LOT.

The thing is, I loved those leggings. They were, as promised, room-temp buttery soft, and the wide waistband smoothed out my “I birthed three children” belly without being too tight. When I answered the door, I had probably been wearing them for two—okay, three—days in a row. The beauty of aggressively patterned leggings is that no one can tell if they’re dirty. They’re exactly the sort of thing one would wear if one decided to tackle the layer of dust on their baseboards. Your prospective clients who have a million dollars in cash ready to buy my house probably don’t dress like this. They’re probably buttery blonde and wear foundation colors in alabaster or porcelain. They probably wear monochrome cashmere sets in bisque or fog. That’s probably who you had in mind when you asked, “Can I speak to the owner of this house?”

Instead, you got me.

Perhaps it was my ponytail, not lush and bouncy like a thoroughbred with champion bloodlines, but the low kind favored by a certain breed of dirtbag guy with limp greasy hair. It was secured with a brown elastic that I stole from the gym and probably looked well-suited for scrubbing grout without having one’s vision compromised by wayward hairs.

Perhaps it was my bare feet, which are looking more and more like the before photo in a bunion surgery ad on the subway. Wide, laborer feet inherited from my peanut-farming Taiwanese ancestors that could be very stable for steadying oneself on a counter while dusting off the top of the kitchen cabinets.

Oh shit. I went overboard on the blush, didn’t I? Those chubby cheek tint sticks take me back to Mrs. DiMartino’s third-grade class, where I had a penchant for covering an entire surface area with pink glitter glue. I probably looked so flushed, like someone trying to scrub out an unseemly stain on the upholstered headboard.

When I told you that I was the owner of the house, your cheeks turned as pink as mine. Your eyes darted around. Your authoritative tone turned into a stutter. I don’t think you realize how highly skilled I am at nonverbal communication, having grown up among two cultures and multiple Chinese dialects. Every woman of color knows in her woman-of-color bones when she’s being disrespected by a white dude. I know that you know you fucked up. And I know that you know that I know you fucked up. A pretty satisfying feeling after being stereotyped, I must say. I know it could be worse.

And you know what? If we met at a bar, I’d gladly be mistaken for a housekeeper over my actual occupation. A housekeeper has real skills that people appreciate. People ooh and aah over the results of their efforts. Have you ever received those abandoned cart emails: “We saw you checking us out”? Someone writes those. That someone is unfortunately me.

I don’t even know why I’m helping you, but here’s some career advice. Maybe you should start your pitch with “Hi, I’m sorry to bother you. This is a great house, and whoa, great leggings too! Do you have a second to chat?” You’ll find it may take a few seconds longer than “Can I speak to the owner of this house?”

Despite appearances, you and I are not so different. We’re both in the same business of acquiring new customers, and based on my consistent 22 percent open email rate, I feel qualified to tell you that you suck at it.

— Julie, who has a phobia of cleaning the oven ever since learning about Sylvia Plath in seventh-grade language arts


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