Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Obsessive-compulsive house flipper, Jeff Lewis, and his staff: classic brutal boss and prey? Part I

"I’m selling a lifestyle. You either live like me or you want to live like me."
-Jeff Lewis, Flipping Out (Episode 1, Bravo TV)


Obsessive-compulsive, and sometimes abusive, house flipper Jeff Lewis is the queen B. of Flipping Out, and Bravo TV's newest reality star. B in his case, stands for Biyotch, Bully and Browbeater as much as for Brutal and Boss.

View the premier episode via video to "Meet Jeff and his staff and the business that validates and celebrates his disorders." Then you'll likely agree: the show's "Drama For Sale"tag line and "My Flipping Boss" blog title both hit the nail on the head. So do my comparisons of Jeff and his staff to situations described by Harvey A. Hornstein, Ph.D. in books ike Brutal Bosses and Their Prey and by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster in Working With You is Killing Me! (which I referenced last year).

As BostonHerald.com - "Buyers beware: Bravo’s house-flipping series needs renovations" describes, Jeff has found, in house flipping and in staffers who stay, ideal outlets through which to channel his dysfunctional quirks, narcissistic tendencies and occasional tyranny. His projects (buying, renovating and reselling real estate in Southern California), with help from his team (which he seesaws between praising and disparaging in the course of the episode, and between hiring and firing, in the course of their relationships), have made him millions. But there's a flip side; Jeff's management style is unnecessarily costly both relationship- and resource-wise.

Jeff recognizes both phenomena. For example, he wonders, on camera, if anyone would ever live with him whom he didn't pay. Hmm. And he confides, but seems incredulous, that his "credit scores are" lower than those of some people who don't own property." Potential creditors “don’t care what [he's] worth." All they care about, he observed, "is my debt.”

Despite those concerns, and self-improvement efforts with a therapist and psychics, Jeff's bad boss and business behavior seem uncurbed. For example, when asked by Executive Assistant Jenni-Pulos Elwood, "Do you feel you can be stern without being degrading?" Lewis quickly answered, "No." Jeff doesn't think twice about assigning unreasonable, unproductive tasks, either, such as requiring assistants to face all labels in his 'fridge forward, or about demanding employees to submit formal, written mea culpas when they behave insubordinately.

Lewis' quirkiness, occupation, and even villainy are not unique in unscripted TV-land. But Jeff distinguishes himself from the speculators featured on A&E's Flip This House and TLC's Flip That House by more brazenly indulging, even flaunting, his disorders. He also brags about investing more money in his projects, and about being more "painstakingly meticulous" than his counterparts.

Jeff believes leveraging himself to the rafters and taking time to add substantial value (that may or may not pay off) is superior to typical house-flipping practices, which involve investing "a few thousand dollars" and reselling within weeks. However, some critics, such as the author of "A Los Angeles Speculator Sold on Himself ," disagree.

Bankers are not keen on Jeff's situation either. Lewis confided having difficulty getting financing, seemingly incredulous that his "credit scores are lower than those of some people who don't own property," and that potential creditors “don’t care what [he's] worth. All they care about," he observed, "is my debt.”

Forget about those obstacles and the roller-coaster nature of Jeff's cash flow. (He can begin a month with a million dollars in the bank, and within weeks "there will be days where he has $1500 left in all his accounts combined, with no savings"). Forget documentation that the Southern California real estate market is well past its peak, and the law of diminishing returns and that the Pareto Principle (a.ka. 80/20 Rule) dictate limiting the level of investment in each project.

Jeff is obsessively, compulsively committed to mining more gold from them thar California hills, and to doing so in the same vein he always has. [Pun intended.] He will maintain his flimsy financial footing by accelerating the sale of a residence he renovated and currently lives in.

Jeff's determination, desite the real risks of bellying-up, channels two iconic American images. CONTINUED.

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