Russian spy Anna Chapman wasn't just a lingerie model and corporate spokeswoman; before she got shipped back to the motherland, she was also a New York real estate agent. So the release of new FBI documents this week that detailed Chapman's alleged espionage activities got us to thinking about why selling real estate is the perfect training ground for a career as a spy.
Here's what we mean:
1. Document familiarization
Real estate agents aren't afraid of a big old stack of legal documents, and most do a fabulous job of explaining what's on those documents to their clients. They jibber-jabber on until the client's eyes glaze over and he begs, "Just tell me where to sign." It's a honed skill, practiced with dual-agency representations, counter-offer addendums, and natural and hazardous waste disclosures. HOA regulations are probably beyond the scope of even 007.
2. Good vision (night and otherwise)
Good real estate agents can be quite adept at reading contract offers upside down on their office-mate's desk and have excellent peripheral vision. And from our deep knowledge base of the espionage world, gleaned primarily from watching James Bond movies, we know that training your eye to use reflective surfaces like department store windows and other people's sunglasses is very much a spy skill.
3. Sincere delivery of the message
Learning how to say, "You don't need closets; just get rid of most of your clothes" with a straight face is a skill that can take you far in the undercover world. Even better is, "The sellers are expecting an offer today, so you need to move fast" when what's at issue is a property that's been on the market for a year. As a spy, talking people into things is highly valued trait.
4. Knowing that the best place to hide is in public
Agents know how to get their names out in front of you. They are on bus benches, on the new scoreboard at the Little League fields, in the PTA dinner-dance program, in the local news outlet for donating books to the library. By being ubiquitous, they become invisible.
5. Keeping current with the latest tools of the trade
Real estate agents, too, have gotten digitally savvy. Once they reel you in as a buyer-client, they put you on an automatic feeder where you get emails every time a property that meets your criteria either comes on the market or has a price drop. Since the emails are generated by the computer, half the time they don't know what you're talking about if you call them about the property. Long gone are the days where they would actually call you to tell you about properties; phones, as you know, can easily be tapped so not using them must be good practice for future spyhood.
6. Moving freely about the community
The documents released this week noted that older spies in the 11-member ring that Chapman belonged to relied on old spy tools -- invisible ink, forged documents and hand-offs of money called "brush passes." Using invisible ink would be a seriously bad idea for any real estate agent, and that goes double for forging documents or handing off money.
But according to a written surveillance report, Chapman was observed by the FBI buying leggings at Macy's while a Russian diplomat lingered outside, and on another occasion was videotaped in a coffee shop with a double agent. Now that's more like it!
Anna Chapman: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier ... Realtor?
> Pct. homes underwater: 6.58%
> 12-Month home price change: +6.97%
> Unemployment: 5.5%
> Homes built since 2000: 11%
The value of homes in the Hawaii region has gone up nearly 7% in the past 12 months, which is one of the biggest price increases in the country, according to enterprise risk management firm VeroFORECAST. Honolulu owes its strong housing market to a low unemployment rate — just 5.5% — as well as a general high demand for homes. Properties on the island have a much higher value than the U.S. average. According to the Census Bureau’s housing statistics, 58.3% of Honolulu’s homes are worth $500,000 or more, compared to the national average of just 10.5%.
> Pct. homes underwater: 5.93%
> 12-Month home price change: +4.39%
> Unemployment: 7.8%
> Homes built since 2000: 6.7%
About 94% of all homes in the Pittsburgh region are more valuable than their mortgages. Homeowners in the region are fiscally sound. The 7.8% unemployment rate is significantly lower than the national average of 9.1%. In addition, the costs associated with owning a home – mortgages, insurance payments, and taxes – are lower than the national average. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, many are choosing to buy homes in the region because housing is affordable and foreclosures are relatively low. Last year, Forbes named Pittsburgh as the best place to buy a Home. This year, the city was rated second.
> Pct. homes underwater: 5.71%
> 12-Month home price change: +0.83%
> Unemployment: 5%
> Homes built since 2000: 15.8%
Oklahoma City was rated by Forbes as the fourth best city to buy a home, citing the region’s good conditions for employment. Among the 372 Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the U.S., Oklahoma City has the 11th lowest unemployment rate, at just 5%. According to NewsOK, despite the relatively good condition of the local housing market, regional officials are still thankful for the changes to the Affordable Refinance Program.
> Pct. homes underwater: 5.44%
> 12-Month home price change: -1.83%
> Unemployment: 7.3% (tied for 93rd lowest)
> Homes built since 2000: 10.6%
Lancaster, located in Pennsylvania’s Dutch country, has one of the healthiest housing markets in the country, with just 5.44% of homes with underwater mortgages. The region has low unemployment, and 95.5% of homes are occupied, compared to a national rate of 86.9%. This year, Forbes rated Lancaster as the 7th best place to buy a home, citing low unemployment and affordable housing.
> Pct. homes underwater: 5.30%
> 12-Month home price change: -4.39%
> Unemployment: 8.1%
> Homes built since 2000: 21.7%
Only 9.1% of home sales in Hunstville, Alabama are made by owners who can no longer afford to make mortgage payments. Part of the reason for this is the relatively small expenses owners have to incur to keep the home, such as mortgage and insurance payments. In 53% of the region’s homes, these costs for homeowners are less than 20% of their annual income. In the U.S. as a whole, only 33% of homes are in that favorable position.
> Pct. homes underwater: 4.56%
> 12-Month home price change: +1.14%
> Unemployment: 6.6%
> Homes built since 2000: 21.6%
The expenses that come with owning a home include mortgage and insurance payments, real estate taxes, and heating costs. Nationwide, nearly 30% of homeowners pay more than 2,000 or more on such expenses. In Fayetteville, North Carolina, just 10% pay that much. Unemployment in the region is relatively high, at 10.4%, but low costs and rising home values in the region help keep more than 95% of the region’s mortgages above water.
> Pct. homes underwater: 4.22%
> 12-Month home price change: 3.92%
> Unemployment: 7.3%
> Homes built since 2000: 5.3%
Buffalo home values have been declining for years as businesses have slowly left the region. However, the housing market is beginning to pick up in the region. As reported in USA Today, the Buffalo housing market remained sluggish during the housing bubble, and so it didn’t suffer from the collapse most of the country experienced. In the article, Bonnie Clement, a local realtor, explains: “We’ve never had a market that has gone way over the top, and, therefore, we don’t have a market that’s now falling down.” In the past 12 month period, home values have increased by nearly 4%.
> Pct. homes underwater: 4.01%
> 12-Month home price change: -0.90%
> Unemployment: 6.7%
> Homes built since 2000: 9.6%
Just 4.01% of mortgaged homes in the Albany region are worth less than their mortgages. Like Buffalo, the region didn’t experience much of a housing boom with the rest of the nation, and so the market hasn’t suffered as much in the aftermath. Only 9.6% of currently standing homes were built in the past ten years, compared to a national average of 14.9%. Unemployment in the region is just 6.7%, and just 2.58% of home sales were made because owners could no longer afford upkeep.
> Pct. homes underwater: 3.89%
> 12-Month home price change: +5.73%
> Unemployment: 10.6%
> Homes built since 2000: 19.6%
In the past 12 months, home prices in El Paso have increased by 5.73%, while prices nationwide have dropped by 4.4%. The housing market in the region, according to the El Paso Times, is exceedingly tight. Just 8.2% of homes are vacant, compared to a national rate of 13.1%. According to the article, El Paso is seeing “Historically low home mortgage rates, including a drop below 4 percent for the first time ever early this month…” This has helped increase home value in the area.
> Pct. homes underwater: 3.41%
> 12-Month home price change: +0.25%
> Unemployment: 7.1%
> Homes built since 2000: 7.2%
Just 3.41% of mortgages in the Rochester, NY region are underwater mortgages. This is the lowest rate in the country. The story for Rochester is very much the same as its regional neighbors Albany and Buffalo. The housing boom failed to reach the area, and so very few new homes were built. In the U.S., 8.8% of all homes were built between 2000 and 2005. In Rochester, just 4.1% of current homes were built during that period. Foreclosure rates have been extremely low in the region. In the past recorded 12-month period, just 2.89% of home sales were of formerly foreclosed-upon homes.