I loathe liars, thieves, bullies, and bigots. And real estate agents who use sleazy, used-car salesman-like tactics. I hate cold callers, door knockers, spam, stupid SOLD pins, and dumb glamour shots. So, back in the day, entering the real estate business wasn’t even on my short list of options when it came to choosing careers.
(Real estate and politics have the same potential for abuse, depending on one’s ethics: entering them can reveal the “respectable statesman/Realtor” or the “opportunistic scoundrel” in a person, and who wants to be considered in league with, or a colleague of, scoundrels? Not me!)
After college, I had a respectable (and boring) job as a systems analyst. With some of my income, I began investing in real estate as a part-time hobby to increase our personal wealth and very quickly learned (the hard way) about mortgage fraud and bad real estate agents.
The mortgage fraud happened to me in 1995. On my second real estate purchase, I was ripped off when I was promised an interest rate of 6% that jumped—without warning or notice—to 8.5% at the closing table. You can mess with my car or mess with my mind, but don’t mess with my bottom line! I was angry, to say the least.
Fighting mortgage fraud and protecting the rights of homebuyers became my passion. I was extremely outspoken about predatory lending practices, and lenders hated me. Conversations and threats of physical violence against me appeared on bulletin boards and via email…which only motivated me to redouble my efforts and embrace my cause.
In the real estate world at that time, buyer’s agents didn’t exist. Every agent represented the seller, so buyers were very much on their own. Exclusive Buyer’s Agency was in its infancy, so I jumped on board since it was the perfect fit for my pro-consumer mindset. By this time, my investment income matched my corporate income, so I quit my job and founded HelpUBuy America (formerly known as Caveat Emptor Realty).
The Glitz, the Glamor, and the Acid Reflux…My Answer to it All
In the ’90s, real estate agents had their pictures everywhere: on yard signs, business cards, billboards, Frisbees, keychains. Mine is pictured on on the right.
(Yep, the curls are natural. Nope, I never straighten it. I made peace with my crazy curls years ago.)
Needless to say, I refused to follow suit and plaster that picture all over town. Frankly, I was (at that time) embarrassed to call myself a real estate agent. The agents I knew wore ugly yellow jackets, went door knocking, passed out flyers, and made cold calls – all the things I despise. I’d sooner die than wear a rhinestone house broach or go trolling for clients at the grocery store! I believed then – and still believe – that those behaviors are undignified, unprofessional, and reek of desperation. Count me out!
Alysse Musgrave, Chia Pet
I don’t recall the exact inspiration (although I do remember that I was watching Bambi Meets Godzilla at the time), but I thought it would be funny to take a swing at predatory lenders while teasing real estate agents at the same time. So, I decided to use a picture of a monkey for my headshot. My first monkey looked like the first image (below). The real estate community criticized me for not taking the business seriously. I then changed my profile image to something more serious, like the second photo. I operated using monkey photos like the ones in the gallery below for many years.
Our tagline became “Buying a Home? Don’t Let Them Make a Monkey Out of You!” (The idiom “make a monkey out of” means to make someone look foolish or to make a fool out of someone.) I donated a portion of every sale to wildlife conservation and ‘Save the Chimp’ organizations.
People quickly recognized and embraced the need for Exclusive Buyer’s Agency and loved our message and service. It wasn’t long before exclusive buyer’s agency became a ‘thing’ in most states. I joined the National Association of Exclusive Buyer’s Agents and became a member of Consumer Advocates in American Real Estate. (Strangely enough, I became known as The Monkey Lady in real estate circles and beyond.)
Our monkey message was a hit, but the photo images were difficult to incorporate into our branding. Luckily, I discovered an amazing graphic artist who created fun 3D animal images, including chimpanzees. I love the playful vibe and exaggerated facial and body features. I had found our new mascot, and our monkey was updated to the ones you see now on our site. The artwork below is just a small sample of Julien Tromeur’s work. He’s genius, in my opinion.
Racism & Discrimination Run Rampant in Real Estate
After 25 years in this business, I can confirm, first-hand, that discrimination and racism exist. The overt racism and violence we see on television are horrible, but the covert discrimination is equally damaging and far more prevalent. Examples?
- A seller once offered me thousands of dollars to encourage my “purple” buyer/clients NOT to purchase their home.
- When building luxury homes, “green” people can sign a contract and provide minimal information to begin the construction process. “Orange” people are forced to go through the full pre-approval process with a lender that they did not choose. They turn over tax returns and bank statements when other races are not required to do so.
- A “blue” client with a low credit score can sometimes rent a house far more easily than a “pink” client with a higher credit score and income.
- Sellers who belong to particular churches won’t sell their home to a gay person, forcing us to hide their orientation until after closing.
Discrimination and racism exist, and we all know it. But it does NOT exist at HelpUBuy America. We serve–and have always served–every prospective homebuyer with the same unfailing fairness and commitment, regardless of race, creed, gender expression, sexual orientation, or country of origin.
I chose our monkey mascot a quarter century ago simply because she gave me a grin and a cute slogan that shows we have your back. Our monkey pokes fun at predatory lenders, real estate agents (including ourselves!), and no one else.
We stand with every marginalized person who throws a spotlight on the places where America doesn’t yet live up to its highest ideals for all of its citizens. We realize that America is a work in progress. We’re all for that, and we’re all for you…and we always will be.