The Woo-woo Agents of Real Estate
Illustration: Joanna Neborsky
This article was featured in One Great Story, New York’s reading recommendation newsletter. Sign up here to get it nightly.
Before Trish Arcaro, a Maine-based real-estate agent, begins a new workweek, she pulls cards from her tarot deck, lights a candle, recites a series of affirmations, and holds her sunstone crystal, which helps to foster abundance and joy. She will occasionally burn palo santo around a new home for a client in order to clear the space of bad energy before the move-in. And when she announces a successful deal on Instagram, she doesn’t put SOLD or PURCHASED on the listing — she puts MANIFESTED!
In Minnesota, an agent and coach called the Commission Queen sells a mug that reads WAKE UP. MANIFEST. SELL REAL ESTATE. REPEAT. The Intuitive Realtor-Healer, an agent in Wisconsin, offers to unblock your chakras and create in-home altars for manifesting in addition to a 40-acre piece of land in Prairie du Sac for $1.6 million. An article on the national brokerage site Redfin explains how to “make the energetic leap from renter to homeowner”: create a vision board; picture your dream house in your mind before falling asleep every night; light a white or green candle and “anoint” it with rosemary oil and a pinch of salt. A 20-year-old TikTok real-estate agent suggests taping your affirmation to your steering wheel as a “manifestation hack.”
These are the woo-woo agents of real estate, the brokers navigating a wildly unpredictable housing market not only with vast sets of data or detailed trend predictions but with a finger on the pulse of the universe itself. As the country faces unprecedented prices, bidding wars, and all-cash offers, they are attuned to energies as well as interest rates — evidence of both how desperate people have become for housing and the ways they are coping with the market’s madness.
For Arcaro, who goes by Holistic Real Estate Pro, when her clients manage to buy a house, it isn’t just at the right price or in the right neighborhood; it is “aligned,” which means the universe has meant for the client to receive this particular piece of property. She works in the idyllic Bangor area, often with young families who have arrived in the state from big cities (she moved from Los Angeles eight years ago, her own “quantum leap,” in New Age–speak).
“The energy they put out there is what helped them attract the house,” Arcaro says. “It’s not just because they had good credit and had good timing and all that stuff,” though she concedes that homebuying requires a “blend” of business strategy and spiritual practice. If she is working with buyers who are worried about what they can afford, she helps get them into a money “mind-set.” “How do you know until you try? Have you looked at your finances?” she asks. “Have you talked to a lender in seeing what you’re preapproved for? If you’re coming from a place of lack and scarcity mode, the universe is going to put you there all the time.”
This approach to real estate is niche but not exactly new — a version of the prosperity gospel geared toward the audience of Selling Sunset. From failed businessman Napoleon Hill’s 1937 book, Think and Grow Rich — one of the first self-help best sellers — to Rhonda Byrne’s 2006 Oprah-fueled phenomenon The Secret, there is a long tradition of American business mystics who marry the accumulation of wealth and success with spirituality.
Byrne pushed the notion of the “law of attraction” into the mainstream. As one practitioner puts it, LOA insists, “Whatever we will believe, we will manifest … If we believe we are going to be poor, we’re going to stay poor.” The Secret has sold over 35 million copies, and a movie adaptation starring Katie Holmes came out in 2020. (In the film, one of the daughters of Holmes’s character is able to manifest both a pizza and a pony.) The Secret has since spawned a cottage industry of business-specific LOA coaching, including books for real-estate selling and investing.
An agent named Penelope Whichello, based in South Carolina, used to be in the spa business before she began selling property and coaching other agents with her Mindfulness in Real Estate company. Those seeking to attract more clients can become a member with access for $19 a month or join a mindful-agent circle for $2,749 for a full year. Whichello explains alignment as “your divine connection to the creativity within yourself” and her job as “helping to move people from one sacred space to the next.”
Cary Tamura, a New York agent with the Corcoran Group, has taught shamatha-vipashyana, or mindfulness-awareness meditation, to other real-estate agents. “The benefits of that in your business, be it dealing with difficult clients or a negotiation, are being keyed into the stuff in between the words,” Tamura says. “The more present you are, the more clearly you can see those kinds of things.” He says this is especially true of his rental clients, who face a market in which the vacancy rate is less than 5 percent: “It’s very difficult to get a rental, whether you’re a broker, whether you’re not a broker. No matter what it is, it’s very likely that there are multiple applications for any rental happening right now. So the ability to not get flustered is very important.”
“I had a venture-capitalist guy who moved to this area from California, and he was all in his head” about starting a short-term vacation-rental business, Whichello tells me. “I told him to come back to his intention: ‘Just come back to what you intended to do when you purchased this, and that was to make it a profitable venture. And then, you know what? The next step shows up.’ ”
Unfortunately, the next step has yet to materialize for millions of would-be homeowners who find themselves locked out of the market. While the woo-woos may not be offering something novel, their outlook does feel uniquely optimistic in our current economic moment, amid interest-rate hikes and with a recession imminent, if Larry Summers is to be believed. As the government, private consultants, journalists, and aspiring homeowners alike try to answer the question “Why is our housing market so insane?,” a group of people is simply responding, “What is meant to be will be.”
Or the problem is you. If you can’t get a home, you’re not manifesting hard enough. If the market craters, well, it’s because of the negative energy you put into the cosmos — what are called “self-limiting beliefs.” On the darker side of manifestation is a kind of magical thinking that avoids any structural explanations, and it’s not all that different from age-old concepts like “creative destruction” or the “invisible hand of the market” or “rugged individualism” — concepts that have been used to hand-wave away the needless brutalities of our economic system. It follows that Mayor Eric Adams, who believes crystals buried in the earth give New York “special energy,” recently released a housing plan without any target metrics.
“I had a client who was crying on the phone because she hadn’t gotten an offer on her house,” Arcaro tells me. The Maine market she works in has seen prices go down slightly in the past year, especially compared to the depths of the pandemic, when sellers would routinely see cash offers from buyers. She suggested the client had an emotional hang-up about moving that she had to let go of in order to release the house from the universe and attract a buyer. “The universe has your back a thousand percent of the time,” she says. “There are things that are happening behind the scenes that you need to trust even though you can’t see it.” Arcaro says her client “manifested a cash buyer,” and the deal is closing on July 11. That is unless the universe has other plans.