For a quick pick-me-up, Virginia real estate agent Pat Derwinski relies on M&M's. She can't remember the last time she took a day off. "I never drive past a gas station without filling up," she said. "My tank seems to be on empty at all times."
Her personal life is on hold -- the dinners, the theater. The lights in her office are often burning at midnight. The desktop computers are never turned off. "What do I wish for?" Derwinski asked. "More inventory."
With mortgage interest rates at their lowest level in almost 10 years, everyone in real estate is swamped. The appraisers and settlement lawyers. The loan processors. Even the termite inspectors. And, of course, the agents such as Derwinski of Mount Vernon Realty.
"I take a lot of vitamins, and I sleep fast," she said. "I get up in the morning, I brush my teeth, and I pop my Stresstabs immediately." Just how long this market boom will continue, Derwinski isn't sure. "We have houses selling within hours," she said.
The area's real estate agents are tired. They're giddy. They say they still enjoy the "adrenaline rush" of matching the perfect family to the perfect house.
But it's a crazy market, with some homes going for more than their asking price, and a surge of first-time buyers. The houses are selling faster than agents and clients can visit them. Prospective buyers are aggressive, and hungry.
In suburban Virginia, as elsewhere, it often falls to the real estate agents to help them through the process -- the tangle of finances, the whirlwind blur of advertising:
"Brk. rambler w/5 BR, 3 full BA . . . . Creampuff brk 5 BR, 3 ba ramb . . . . Spacious and Gracious brk TH w/circular stairway . . . . New Roof covers this adorable 4 BR cape cod w/eat-in kit & full bsmt."
Pauline Hurd, a Northern Virginia agent with Mount Vernon Realty, has worked every day since January, taking time out only to attend church on Easter.
"In my office, we have one of those little trays that have junk packages of crackers and candies," she said. "I think that's what we're dining on, if you want to call it that. And, there's a lot of coffee being consumed -- black."
When she is able to make it home for dinner, she relies on her husband to shop for groceries and cook. "I have a wonderful husband who is having to do everything for me.
"I just wish I had more single dwellings," Hurd sighed. "They're the ones that are going, and it could be at any price, anyplace. Everything's moving. It's the American idea -- the single home. That's what everybody has always wanted."
For now, Hurd's golf games are off, and so are her other spare-time activities. In answer to a question, she said she is 52 years old. "I don't look it," she added, "but I might by the end of this year."
Karen Watkins is 47, a Virginia real estate agent with Merrill Lynch. These days, she said, she's rising at 6:30 a.m. and going to bed after midnight. "Six hours is all I need -- thank goodness," she said.
She's working seven days a week, too, zipping back and forth between Herndon and Woodbridge, contract presentations and walk-through appointments.
The big Colonials, with front columns and "the two-story look," are selling. So, too, are Victorians. And starter homes. Brick ramblers. Big estates. Tiny bungalows.
"Everything's doing well, as long it's a house and it's still standing," Watkins said.
The agents don't discuss their personal finances, except to say this is an opportunity to "make hay while the sun shines."
Pam McCoach, an agent with Tatum Properties in Fairfax City, hasn't had much of a rest, either. She remembers Palm Sunday as hectic. "I had a client waiting for me. I had another client with me. I was trying to write a deed, answer the phone, take the message."
The pace keeps escalating. "This past weekend, it was a zoo in here. It was absolutely -- the duty agent was going crazy."
"I like to be busy, and I'm not slow at all," said McCoach. "But, this race, race, race, race, race -- you don't know how to book your time. You just wing it and hope that you do all right."
The last thing she does at night is check listings in her home computer. "You feel like a strung-out rubber band," she said. "It's wild."