Thursday, July 30, 2009

Excerpt - Selling Forever by Kimber Chin

Step One

Prospecting: Initiating contact with potential customers and qualifying them as prospects who can and will buy within a reasonable period of time.

An uneasy buzz crisscrossed the room, speculation on everyone’s lips. The reason for this Monday morning meeting, no one knew. It couldn’t be good news, the resale numbers having been soft for the last couple of months. Although Cara hadn’t felt the slowdown, other agents had.

“Susie in human resources said they might get rid of the assistant brokers.” Wendy Lee, Cara’s assistant broker, chattered nervously beside her. “I don’t know what I’ll do if that happens. My parents are counting on my income to help with the rent and…”

“We’ve talked about this before.” Cara cut off her unproductive fretting. As long as the girl continued to perform, she would continue to receive her check, even if it came out of Cara’s own pocket. Although that would be more challenging as her project progressed.

“I know you gave me your word, but if all the other assistant brokers...”

If all the other assistant brokers were let go, only Cara’s exceptional position as the top agent would save Wendy’s job. “When was the last time I broke a promise, either to you or to anyone else?”

“Never.” The reply was immediate. No thought required.

And that was the way it should be. Despite the myth of sleazy snake oil salesmen, a saleswoman’s word was her most valuable commodity. Cara never gave hers lightly.

“Then stop worrying, Wendy.”

Cara worried enough for the both of them.

If Wendy lost her job, if Cara was ever unable to cover her salary, the Lee’s wouldn’t make rent. If they didn’t make rent, the landlord would evict them.

They would be homeless. Wendy’s father would blame himself. It would eat away at him, at his self-confidence. He’d never be the same, never laugh or smile and then...

No. Renting was too risky. If Wendy’s family owned their home, it would be different. They’d have equity to refinance if anything happened.

Cara was determined to make that ownership a reality for the family. She rubbed her neck, shoulders aching from self-inflicted pressure. Tonight, the first lot closed. Once that

took place successfully, all the moneymen would be fully committed and Cara could relax.

“Listen up, people.” The vice president hushed the crowd from his place at the front of the room. “Before you go back out there to sell, sell, sell, we have an exciting announcement to make.”

With the word exciting, a hundred plus agents and assistant brokers, Cara included, let out their collective breath. Exciting never meant layoffs or downsizing.

“As you are all aware,” the executive continued, seeming oblivious to the panic he caused, “We’ll be participating in the first ever handyman or handywoman auction benefiting Shelter for Mankind.”

Wendy gave her a relieved smile.

“To ensure that we get the very best participants, we’ve decided to hold a contest. We are allowing each agent to volunteer one participant. The agent whose handyman or woman has the highest winning bid will forgo paying any and all desk fees for the month.”

Cara’s ears perked up. No fees? The realty had been pushing them even more than usual recently, needing the commission money. Now.

“Cara?” Wendy asked, sounding hopeful.

“Your usual percent would apply, but on the total sale,” she answered and watched the young girl’s smile spread. Other assistant brokers only received the standard starting salary. Cara paid that as a base, but topped it off with a mini-commission, aligning Wendy’s goals with her own.

“Do you have anyone in mind?”

Any one. One. They only had one shot at this.

“What about the Mayor? He’d do it if you asked him.”

Her broker-in-training was in awe after the introduction to the politician last week. “Would you pay big money to meet the Mayor?” The politician was striving to be

the People’s Mayor, accessible to all, with his weekly public lunches.

Wendy’s face dropped. “No.”

Who would pay? The highest bids, Cara tapped her chin in thought, would come from either very wealthy individuals or corporations with large cash flows, like the media. They paid for interviews.

Wendy snapped her fingers, her face lighting up. “Blake Rexdall owes you for selling his house so quickly.”

The actor. Society matrons would plunk down cash for some of that Hollywood glamour, the paparazzi would also pony up for an exclusive. However...

“He has a two year shoot in Africa.”

“Oh, yeah.”

Cara liked the media angle. Recently Venture Magazine offered $250,000 for a one-hour interview with, yes, as if she could forget, the reclusive local billionaire, Richard Thompson. He turned them down, of course, like all the rest, but if he was approached again...

“That’s it.” There was a flutter in her belly. From the competition. It couldn't be from anything else. Could it?


Right, Wendy, although good as far as assistant brokers went, was not a mind reader. “What do you know about Richard Thompson?”

The girl’s sweet brown eyes almost popped out of her head. “You know him?”

Cara shrugged her shoulders. They had never met, not officially. Okay, not at all, with the man harder to find than a penthouse overlooking the park, but after two years of talking regularly with Shirley, his assistant, she felt she knew him.

Well enough to know that while it would be a tough sell, it wouldn’t be impossible. If Cara framed the proposition attractively, he could solve one of her problems and one of

his at the same time. Shirley knew all of Richard’s business, and wasn’t afraid to share it with those she trusted. Shirley trusted Cara.

“Wow, Richard Thompson, I mean, wow. I’m on it, Cara.” Wendy shook with excitement. “By noon today, you’ll know everything there is to know, from his mother’s birthday to what he ate for breakfast.”

Cara knew all that already.

September 15th, an only son, he bought his mom yellow roses every year. As for breakfast? Today was Monday. That meant a white glazed doughnut with a cup of coffee, black.

There could be something she missed, something that could seal the deal. Wendy would find that something.

Wendy didn’t have the social connections, yet. She didn’t have anything more than her real estate license and a high school education. But she had a go-getter attitude, and she wasn’t lazy about doing the research.

Research, any good saleswoman knew, eased the way in even the harshest of sales climates.

~ * ~

Richard was battling his own harsh climate. “Sorry I’m late.” He shrugged out of his beat-up brown leather jacket as he walked. He hated being late, it threw his whole day off. “Had to drop the car at the shop.”

“Broke down again?” Shirley followed him into his office, her hands full of pink slips of paper. Messages. People wanting a piece of him.

Where were they when he was struggling?

“Yeah.” Richard plopped down on the black captain’s chair. “It broke down again.”

“My Bimmer’s working. Hasn’t broken down yet,” she said a tad bit too cheerfully. His assistant had purchased the BMW before the buyout check cleared.

Richard grunted as he flipped his laptop open and hooked it up to the network. “Why don’t you spend the repair money on a new car?” Another helpful piece of advice.

“I like my Jetta.” He scanned through his in-box. Most of the names he didn’t recognize, and those emails remained unopened.

“You never liked it before.” Shirley placed his filled coffee mug down on the desk, using a piece of paper as a coaster. “You cursed that car up and down.”

She was right. He had. However, that was before everything else in his life changed.

“Posture, Richard.” He straightened, biting back a profanity. “Something else is wrong.” Shirley continued, studying him. “Isn’t it Monday? Where’s your doughnut?”

About time, she noticed. “Didn’t have time to pick it up.” Lack of breakfast wasn’t helping his bad mood. He couldn’t think with his stomach rumbling.

“Now if you had a car that worked...” Shirley leaned back in the guest chair, sipping her own coffee, unsympathetic to his hunger pains.

If he had a car that worked, if he had an employee that worked.

Didn’t she have a job to do? Wasn’t part of that job keeping her boss, him, happy? “Most assistants would run out and get their employer a doughnut,” Richard grumbled.

“Most assistants aren’t millionaires.” She sipped her coffee, watching him with a slight smile.

True. Richard patted his shirt pocket. Then, he couldn’t recall Shirley ever running out and getting him anything, even before the millions.

Why had he hired her again? Where was it? Shirley handed him the memory stick he searched for. Oh yeah, that was why. He’d be lost without her.

“Any messages?” Richard changed the topic of conversation to one he could control.

“The usual. Requests for financing, advice for young entrepreneurs.” Shirley flipped through the papers. What advice did he have? None. He got lucky, that’s all. “Oh, Cara Jones called.” She smiled fondly at her own handwriting.

Cara Jones. Over the past couple of years, Richard heard enough about that woman to fill a database. If he wasn’t sure Shirley was straight, he’d think she was halfway in love with the realtor.

“Her folks affected by the hurricane?” Richard brought up her bookmarked website, her toothy smile and curly blonde hair filling the screen. He liked looking at her picture

as they talked, despite Shirley's claim that she was prettier in person. Unlikely. Cara Jones had a face a man could spend a lifetime staring at.

“Nothing major. One palm tree pulled up by the roots, and they now have an extra barbeque in their backyard.” Richard smiled despite his grumpy mood. “No one has

claimed it yet. Cara’s dad hopes the next hurricane brings baby back ribs to grill on it.”

Baby back ribs, huh? Cara’s Dad would appreciate that new online meat supplier Richard had discovered. The best cuts, aged to perfection. His empty stomach growled at the thought.

He scribbled a note to himself on a Post-It, only to frown at the defective pen. He studied it a bit closer. Invisible ink? Did it say invisible ink on the side? Where was his assistant sourcing their office supplies? The CIA?

“Pen not working?”

Richard frowned at Shirley’s cheerfulness.

“Try this one.” A pen appeared out of nowhere, the plastic shell warm. “Writes like a BMW.”

Richard ignored the comment. “You’re not selling the house?” This was one of his standard Cara questions. Shirley first met the real estate agent when she considered upgrading her accommodations.

“We didn’t talk about it, but no, I’m not. I love myhome.”

“I love the Jetta.” He didn’t, not really.

“Hmmm…Anyway, she called for you, not me.”

“For me?” Now that was a surprise. Why would she call? Only one reason, it must be business. A house she wanted him to buy. “What’s with people trying to sell me real estate lately?”

There had been an ugly incident last week in his favorite Chinese restaurant. Some pushy slickster trying to hard sell him a penthouse while he ate egg foo young. One more restaurant he couldn’t go back to.

“Maybe they don’t like the dump you’re renting?” Shirley held a low opinion of his place, even before the money. “Oh, on that subject, she gave me the name of her favorite Chinese restaurant. Thought you’d like to give it a try, instead.”

Great, they talked about that embarrassing incident. Cara must think him a spaz and…

“I’m not buying a house from her.” He was firm. No matter how good looking the woman was, how charming she supposedly was, or how the second hand stories about her

made him laugh.

“Good. ‘Cause she doesn’t want to sell you one.” Shirley shook her head. “The realty is participating in a fundraiser, a handyman auction benefiting Shelter for Mankind.”

Lord. Another person with her hand outstretched. Always about the dollars. Richard glanced at the woman’s white, white teeth, disappointed. “You like Cara, don’t you?”

“I do. When I talk, she listens.”

“I listen.” Most of the time, when he wasn’t thinking about missing doughnuts or work or how to get grease stains out of his favorite shirt. That damn car. He thought he could fix it himself and...

“You do, but she...” She fiddled with her glasses. “She really listens, to more than the words. When we met, Cara knew right away I didn’t want to move.”

“That’s her job.” Though that impressed him. A good house in a good neighborhood, an older woman falling into a pile of cash, it could have been two easy commissions, both

buying and selling. The supper sabotaging agent would have pounced on the opportunity. “Send her a check.” If it made his assistant happy, he could overlook this morning’s lack of doughnuts.

“She doesn’t want a check.”

Where was this conversation going? “What does she want, then?”

“Well.” Again with the glasses. “They are one handyman short.”

“And?” How was that his problem? Try the yellow pages.

“She would like you to be that handyman.”

“What?” Richard rose out of his seat. “Is she serious?” Him, a handyman? He wrote computer programs, for Pete’s sake. “Where’d she get the impression that I’m a handyman? I’m not handy.”

“That’s what I told her.”

He frowned, insulted at Shirley’s ready agreement. He wasn’t completely inept. Richard plucked at the grease stain on his white linen shirt.

“Cara said it didn’t matter. You can bring a contractor as long as you show up.”

He sat back down, considering the situation. “She wants to auction me off as an unhandy handyman?” Part of him was horrified, another part flattered. If it wasn’t his handyman skills then why him? Richard glanced at his reflection in the laptop monitor and smoothed his brown hair down. Or tried to. It quickly returned to its natural state of sticking straight out. As persistent as a pop up ad.

He wasn’t bad looking, if a woman could overlook the hair.

“An unhandy handyman,” he repeated.

“Seems that way.” Shirley’s lips twitched suspiciously.

“Insane.” His protest was weaker.

“She must be.”

Richard glared at his assistant. Shirley’s expression was too innocent.

“Why me?” He was starting to like the idea. Richard Thompson, handyman; wearing a hard hat, one of those tool belts, driving a white cube van, and fixing leaking pipes for hot women. Maybe, he glanced at Cara’s photo, for a certain hard working real estate agent.

“Why you? Why not you?” There was a long, suffering sigh. “You’re a billionaire, Richard, remember?”

He had almost forgotten. A billionaire. His fantasy world collapsed with that word. It always came back to that. While before, he had worn dozens of labels—businessman,

boss, friend, son, even lover—now there was only one, billionaire. A big smile full of white teeth mocked him for thinking otherwise.

“Tell her no.”

“I already did.”

~ * ~

“So what do you think?” At that moment, Cara was anything but distraught about Shirley’s answer, sitting in her comfortable Volvo sedan with Wendy in the passenger seat.

The girl studied the offer they, moments ago, received. “The dollars are in the ballpark.”

They were, Cara smiled, pleased that her assistant broker was good with the numbers. “Will they go higher?”

“It’s the first offer.” She chewed her bottom lip. “But I’ve noticed that Ken normally likes to go in with his best offer. He’s not strong on negotiating.”

She was good at reading people, too. Partially Cara’s training, partially instinct. “What about the closing date?”

“Thirty days is reasonable.”

It was, for a normal homeowner. “Mrs. Beadice has been in her home for thirty-three years.” This was where experience came in. “She’ll need more time.”

Slight shoulders slumped. “How much time?”

“That’s what you’ll find out.” The elderly lady was on board about being Wendy’s first close, flattered actually. Cara would be with her, every step of the way.


“Yeah, you. I’m riding shotgun on this one. It’s your sale. You’re ready.” Cara was counting on it. The build would take more of her time. Wendy would need to fill in.

“You really think so?” The girl’s brown eyes glowed with pride.

“I know so.” It wasn’t much of a risk. Cara had checks and double checks in place as she had with tonight, if Peterson, her financier, fell through…

“I won’t let you down, Cara,” Wendy assured her. “I’ll make it my first priority once we get back to the office.”

First priority? “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

Wendy’s face went blank.

“The Thompson information?” Cara gave her memory a nudge.

“You still need that?”

Only if they wanted to win. “Of course, I do. Why wouldn’t I?”

“His assistant said no.” Wendy wouldn’t meet her eyes.

“Ahhhh…” The girl was green, and she considered the no a failure, for Cara, her hero. Oh, the injustice of it all. Cara almost chuckled. “The first no is only the beginning of a negotiation. Like a ‘Hi, how are ya?’”

Yes, Shirley said no. That was an expectation. It was common knowledge Richard Thompson didn’t make public appearances. His assistant would have that as an auto response. Shirley promised she’d run it by her boss, but she didn’t expect the answer to change.

Though she hoped, she was wrong and that was a great sign.

If Shirley, his trusted friend, thought Richard too secluded, Cara figured that it was merely a matter of time before he rejoined the rest of the world. What better venue than the Handyman Charity Auction?

None better. It was perfect.

Cara could hold his hand, figuratively, of course, she didn’t truly know the guy, but she could show him the ins and outs of working the press, ensuring that it was a happy, comfortable experience for everyone.

Richard would learn media management from a pro, the charity would benefit big time, and she and Wendy would get a few extra dollars for their troubles. Win-win, her favorite scenario.

Maybe Richard would treat her to some of that dry wit she was always hearing about. Maybe, when Richard finally decided to move out of that rat hole he called an apartment, he’d give her a call. Who knew?

“You think Richard Thompson is a possibility?” Wendy asked after mulling it over a bit.

“Very much, yes, and that reminds me, we have to swing by the condo to pick up a pie.” Cara kept a stash homemade, but frozen pie in her freezer. “For the Gumble open house.”

“Get rid of the lingering pet smell.” Wendy scrunched up her nose. “No time to air the place out properly.”

“Apples and cinnamon will do the trick.” Additionally, the apple pie, once baked, could prove useful elsewhere. “I wonder if Mr. Thompson likes pie,” Cara mused as she pulled

out of the driveway. It was a rhetorical question. She knew the answer, Richard’s citywide search for the perfect apple pie a Shirley story staple.

A dimple appeared in her cheek as Wendy grinned. “My research says he does.”

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