By Melissa Dittmann Tracey The new fiction novel, Red Hot Property (Infinity Publishing, 2008), follows the adventures of four rookie real estate agents as they embark on their careers, juggling work demands and weaving their way through the mystery and danger that sometimes looms.
In recognition of REALTOR® Safety Week , which kicked off yesterday, we talk with the book’s author Devin O’Branagan, a real estate practitioner with ERA Tradewind in Longmont, Colo., about why she wrote the novel, which brings real estate safety to the forefront.
The book is a fictional account of real estate agents just starting out, but as you point out, the book is also a cautionary tale to those in the industry. What was that cautionary lesson that you wanted to get across to your peers?
O’BRANAGAN: One of my main reasons for writing this novel is the issue of safety. I hope this will shake up my fellow REALTORS® a bit and cause them to place a greater emphasis on safety. I see this all the time in our industry — and I’m guilty of this too: We take big risks in our job. I just think we’re too trusting. Every day we see real estate agents take some of the same risks of the characters in the book — we’re running out the door after a call to meet clients we don’t know in an area with no cell phone service.
I wanted to dramatize some of the dangers of our profession in the book because I thought it would have a much greater impact than a how-to list of safety tips. I long ago learned that people are often affected more emotionally by the dramatization of an event. If the reader came to care about these characters and then were blind-sided by what could happen, maybe they would suddenly realize that it could happen to them too.
In the book, the characters are exposed to dangers that real estate practitioners sometimes face, such as at open houses. Are any of these situations based on true stories?
O’BRANAGAN: Some of it is based on true stories. For example, when one of the main characters is attacked by a dog at a showing, there really was an incident of a real estate agent in Denver where a dog grabbed her by the throat.
These kinds of dangers can happen in this profession. There are sexual assaults, robberies, and murders that do happen. Some agencies are now requiring the buddy system, but most of us work alone and are solo agents so we just have to do the best we can. We put a lot of trust that it’s going to be all OK and, unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
I started collecting anecdotes 10 years ago when I started in the real estate business. I keep a notebook with me, and I’ve collected anecdotes from the news and also other agents. At every closing, I ask agents to tell me the funniest, saddest, and scariest thing that ever happened to them. I then have fictionally translated all of these anecdotes that I’ve collected and many are included in the book.
Have you ever encountered a safety issue while you were working?
O’BRANAGAN: I walked into a listing once to show a home when a man was still asleep and he went for his gun. I had the showing all set but when I went to show my clients the finished basement, we found a man asleep. He was startled and he didn’t speak English either so he didn’t understand. It was terrifying, particularly since in my state of Colorado, it is a “make my day” state, where you can legally use force against an intruder if you feel threatened.
Why did you use four rookie real estate agents as your main characters? Do the less-experienced tend to be in more danger?
O’BRANAGAN: Not necessarily. When I was a rookie, I was much more careful. When I became more experienced, I became more casual about it all. But I used rookies in the book mostly for reader identification. I wanted the book to have wide appeal to a general audience and I thought for a reader, the best way to get into the story about the profession is through the eyes of someone learning it.
While this is a fiction book, it provides a lot of insight into the daily job of a real estate agent, from all the details that go into marketing a property to going after listings and the selling process. Was that one of your goals?
O’BRANAGAN: Yes, definitely. We are a very misunderstood profession and a lot of people don’t get what we do. It’s much more complicated than what they imagined. I’ve heard from others who said that it has made them rethink all the money within the real estate industry and has given them insight into all of the expenses involved on the agent’s part in marketing. Based on the feedback I’ve received, I’ve achieved what I’ve wanted to with this book: Respect more for the profession and a greater understanding of what we do.
How did you get the idea to write this book?
O’BRANAGAN: What started me with the book is a line that I got from my own experience. It’s when I was just starting out as a real estate assistant about 10 years ago and this real estate agent came up to me and said: “You are a red hot property with lots of curb appeal and you show real well.” I wrote it down and it’s in my book.
I understand that you are working on a sequel to this book — what will the follow up book be about?
O’BRANAGAN: I’m working on a sequel that will follow some of the same characters and their careers after being a rookie. The next book will deal with the mortgage meltdown. When I started the original book, the mortgage crisis wasn’t in full swing yet. If the sequel is successful, I might make this into a series.
Did your previous novels focus on real estate too?
O’BRANAGAN: This is my third book. The other two came before I was a real estate agent and were horror novels (Spirit Warriors and Witch Hunt). That’s not a road I wanted to go down but the publisher wanted me to. After those two novels, I became disillusioned and quit writing. But after all these years in real estate, I kept coming upon these humorous or scary anecdotes, and I would tuck them away into a notebook and I turned them into a novel.
After I finished the book, I took it to some big publishers since I already had an established track record, but I received several responses that nobody wanted to read a book about real estate. They said that if you turn it into a romance novel, then they’ll know what to do with it. I had to change my first novel into a horror novel, which I didn’t want to do, and I did not want to take this great novel and make it a romance novel. Luckily, I found a smaller, family-owned publishing company, that offered me the creative freedom I wanted, and I didn’t have to change the book into something I didn’t want to.
What response have you been getting about the book?
O’BRANAGAN: This book is something that those in the real estate industry can relate to – balancing family life and other demands such as keeping your integrity, dealing with clients in stressful situations, and taking care of your — and your client’s — safety. This also comes with all the humorous, goofy, and craziness that is unique to our profession.
I’ve been getting great feedback. I have been asked to do book signings in real estate offices, speak at sale’s meetings, and some real estate schools have contacted me because they want to make the book recommended reading to their students.
Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, writing about home & design trends, technology, and sales and marketing. She manages the magazine's award-winning Styled, Staged & Sold blog.