Mr. Humphries

(reading time 6 minutes)

The time was 1948.  I had just opened a Real Estate office in the Philadelphia suburban town of Llanerch, Pennsylvania.  It was after the WWII.  Sales were good.  With four salesmen and me, we were selling five to ten houses a week, sometimes more.  My wife, Winnie, was my secretary.  The office was beautiful, on the busiest corner in town with 2 trolley stops and 3 bus stops at my door.  My office sign was gigantic and unavoidable. It was Saturday. The entire staff was on duty, ready for the weekend action.

We just finished our coffee and morning sales meeting.  The door to the sales room opened, and in walked an uncombed, grey-haired, unshaven man.  He wore soiled coveralls, dirty sneakers, wrinkled shirt and an old dirty baseball cap.  He just meandered in, said nothing, and flopped on the sofa.  The salesmen, who had what we called “ups”, all got busy on the telephone, ignoring the man who was a very unlikely looking prospect.  It would cost them their “up” (turn for a prospect) if they as much as said hello.

Our secretary, Winnie, noticed the situation. In absence of a salesman greeting this client, she asked if she could help him.  His response, “I want to buy a house.  It is not for me, but for my lady-friend and her two children.”  “Just minute”, Winnie said.  “I’m sorry that all of our salesmen seem to be busy, but I’m sure Mr. Miller will help you.”  Mr. Miller was me.  By appearances I thought, there goes my morning.  My interview was short. He asked how much are three bedroom houses today?  Did I have a little single detached home, near schools and transportation?  I did! We went to see it right there and then.  The salesmen hung their heads and looked the other way as I put on my coat and took him out.

I believe in providence and that there are no accidents. That became a day to remember.  Even my daughter remembered the story, and reminded me to include it in  That night at the dinner table, my wife Winnie and I laughingly spoke of the day and have several times since.

I showed this prospect, Mr. Humphries, a brand new listing I had just listed two days before, in the same town where his lady-friend lived.  Here’s what I offered.  A two-story house, two blocks from the school, on it was #222 Second Street, two blocks from the bus and two short blocks from shopping.  It was two years old.  Two small porches, back and front, two swings for the children, two bedrooms on the second floor, and one on the first. The lady’s name was Ms. Cupples.  We picked up Ms. Cupples and her children. They lived nearby.  They looked at the house, and nothing could have been better for them. This was a deal made in heaven.

When we came back to the office, the salesmen were sure that I went on a wild goose chase, and each had a silly grin on their face.

I ushered Mr. Humphries to my desk and offered him a seat.  This was his first home purchase.  His question was, “Who do I pay, you or the owner?” I asked, “How do you want to finance the home?”  He stood up, reached into his pocket and removed a roll of bills that would choke the incredulous, gaping salesmen. Mr. Humphries said, “I don’t believe in mortgages. My folks lost their home in the 30s with one of them. Let me count this here money I got.  I think I have enough.  Did you say $12,000?”  In a minute, he said, “Yep, I can make that OK.  When can we move in?  Tutu, (that’s what he called his lady friend) has to be out of where she is in 30 days.”  I said, “The house is vacant, and I promise we’ll have her living there by the first of the month.”  It happened just like a deal made in heaven. I took a deposit, prepared the agreement, and he signed it. We made settlement in 3 weeks. They moved in and everybody was happy.

Mr. Humphries walked into the office after the settlement for the keys, stood right in the middle of the floor, in front of the salesman and said, “I have to admit.  When I walked in your office three weeks ago, I was nervous.  But Mr. Miller, you sure found the perfect house for my lady friend and her children. I won’t ever forget how easy you made it for us.  Thank you Mr. Miller.

As Mr. Humphries left our building, I noticed that he walked to the curb, and raised a finger as if motioning to a cab.  A big black Lincoln limousine drove by the curb. Mr. Humphries got in the back of the limo, and it drove away.  We never saw Mr. Humphries again. Those coverall dungarees sure gave us a different picture of a good prospect.