Counseling the First-Time Home Buyer, or How Teaching Downward-Facing Dog Has Made Me a Better Lawyer

By: Melanie Levan

Like you, I wear many hats in my life. Mother, attorney, wife, daughter… and yoga teacher.  I have taught yoga for over nine years, and it is one of the greatest sources of joy in my life. Each class, I help people stretch, relax, tune in to themselves, and maybe get some clarity. This, in turn, makes me happy.  A Chinese proverb sums it up perfectly: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”

So what does being a yoga teacher have to do with counseling first-time home buyers? In yoga, there is a philosophy to approach each pose with a “beginner mind.” So even though I may have practiced a pose 100 times, my students probably haven’t.  And if I slow down, pretend I’m a beginner again, break down each pose to the basics, my students will have a greater understanding of the process.  And I get to take a step back, maybe find things about the pose I had forgotten, or discover a new way to move into it.

Counseling first-time home buyers requires that same “beginner mind.” I have read the standard residential real estate contract hundreds of times. I know which parts need to be scrutinized, and which parts are not really that important. But my newbie homebuyers have never seen this document before, and have no idea what it is they’ve signed.  I know the steps in applying for a mortgage, how to get homeowner’s insurance, and the how to read a home inspection report.  To my babe-in-the-woods clients, these steps may be confusing and scary, and often, no one has the inclination or time to sit down and explain the process to them.  I go back to my “beginner mind”, and put myself in their shoes. If I were teaching downward facing dog, how would I approach this.  I’d first start with the simple foundation of the pose, and along the way I would add instructions about breathing.  I might physically move the student into the pose.  If the student struggled, I might offer modifications to make the pose more comfortable.

I approach the first-time homebuyer client the same. I’m going to go over every paragraph of the contract with them, even the rarely applicable ones like bulks sales, so that the client understands the contract.  I’ll send them an email with all the due dates laid out, and send them reminders several days ahead of time, so they know what’s expected of them and when. When they call with questions about their mortgage application, I will not respond “that’s not really my job, you need to speak with your lender.” I’ll remember how confusing the process can be, and help them as best I can. When they are panicking that they won’t meet a deadline, I reassure them that this is not unusual, and we can ask the seller to extend the deadline. I try to remember always what my client does not know.

Sometimes, the beginner mindset forces me to look at a problem from a different angle, like when my client asks “why are we doing it this way?” The answer “because we’ve always done it this way” seems inadequate.  I must look at the issue through fresh eyes, and maybe there is a different or better way to address it.

So next time you have a first-time homebuyer, try counseling them with that “beginner mind.” You may find new things about the process yourself, and will probably earn a client for life. No yoga class required (but highly recommended!)