Yes, I was excited, and what real estate salesman wouldn't be, riding the express elevator to the 77th floor of Southland Savings & Loan. Standing behind three other passengers, I checked the knot of my tie as the doors swooshed open.
Southland's CEO, Harry Holmes, elbowed the others aside and reached for my hand, beaming broadly. My blazer with its "Billion $ Sales" breast patch seemed to turn him on.
"Welcome aboard!" He propelled me down a hall and through a 17-foot double door into Southland's board room--the Cooperstown of Realtors, Magnetic Pole of Money.
Harry and I sat at a clever, egg-shaped mahogany table where every person could stare at every other person straight in the eye. Around the table were the high priests and priestesses of home sales.
"Boomer, my dear boy," said the suave Harry. "We have hired you as our consultant at a rate you must be finding agreeable (at $750 an hour, was he right!), but we have a very tough job for you, a mission of utmost importance to the entire region. (Heads bobbed.) We feel you, as Southern California Realtor of the Year, are peculiarly, yea spectacularly, qualified." (More nods.)
"The situation is this," said Harry, emptying a large box of computer printouts on the middle of the table. "Our Research and Monetary Intelligence Department's spread-sheet analysis proves what most of us have suspected for several weeks:
"Not one house has sold in Southern California this month. And our economists and accountants report that in each case, the sale of one house was contingent on the sale of the next, approximately 97,423 homes awaiting the sale of each other. No one with enough cash to make a deal."
He paused to let that sink in.
"Gridlock," I whispered.
"Precisely, Boomer. Equity at a standstill. If you can find that one domino house, the property that sells without a contingency, if you can make the deal and unplug the market, we will pay you a bonus that will make you think that winning the lottery is like finding two dimes in a pay phone!"
"Godspeed, Boomer," Harry said hoarsely. "Find that Milk of Magnesia of real estate and you are a wealthy man." (Heads bobbed.)
You'd think, as the elevator plummeted like a safe, that my heart would have risen. It sank. I was suddenly nervous. Here's a report in my hand marked "CONFIDENTIAL AND SECRET" that says the entire real estate market in Southern California is in paralysis and they've picked me to be Dr. Kildare.
I sought advice from Maggie. She runs a maid service and is a part-time realtor. Hardly makes a buck in the market but is free with advice.
"Maggie," I said, "there is one house that, if sold, would trigger the sale of every other contingency house in Southern California. You follow? How do I go about finding that property?"
"It's very simple," she said. "Follow the money."
"That sounds like Watergate mumbo jumbo," I protested.
"Well, if it's good enough advice for Dustin Hoffman, it's good enough for you."
"All right, Maggie, could you just narrow the topic a little bit, adjust your focus, perhaps?"
"Find the one buyer with enough cash to buy," she said.
I was pretty depressed as I backed the BMW down the driveway. Then I began to follow the money. I took Interstate 15 toward Las Vegas. Something told me the answer lay ahead, and while stopping for a Whopper in Barstow, it came to me like a car-phone call from Zeus.
U-Haul. Right there in front of me. And getting out of the Ford Pinto with Indiana plates was a couple with twin boys about age 5 and no Mickey Mouse hats, and therefore California-bound. I approached them.
Yes, they had sold their three-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath in Evansville for $139,900, but they weren't sure they could afford anything in Southern California. He might not take the toy chain's sales manager post after all. Just stop at Knotts.
I tried to keep cool. Find them a house and it's the biggest deal since Chavez Ravine. I take their boys hostage in the BMW and we caravan the I-10, stopping to pick up a new copy of "Homes in Covina." And there it was: "GREAT HOME FOR FAMILY AND PETS. Nice floor plan w/fireplaces, 3 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, formal dining room. You can enjoy the privacy of your yard and patio year-round. $139,900."
We found it five blocks away on a quiet street with leafless gum trees and plenty of dead leaves. The owners had made a bid on a home in San Dimas whose owners, in turn, had made a contingent bid on a home in La Canada Flintridge. Evansville loved the place, apparently not noticing the corroded cyclone fence along the street, sagging rock roof and the cracked concrete back yard with its fringe of man-eating ivy.
I had them in escrow before sunset and their check cleared after hours. The San Dimas property sold next morning, and the rest is history. Values went back up 20% and never looked south.
I bought Maggie a five-day package to Maui, installed a second phone in the Beemer and, like the McDonald's signs that keep track of hamburger flips, upgraded my blazer to "Trillion $ Sales."