Positive signs

Jerry Sparling is one of five deaf Realtors in the United States

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Jerry Sparling, one of five deaf Realtors in the country, works at Keller Williams Realty in Coeur d'Alene communicates with clients through text messaging, email and with an interpreter service online that relays Sparling's conversation.

COEUR d'ALENE - For Jerry Sparling, one of five deaf Realtors in the country, it's always about what's next.

Today, right now, isn't quite as good as tomorrow.

There's a marriage to his fiancee next year, a nonprofit to establish, a population to help, another to educate, and always the next house to sell.

Since joining Keller Williams Realty two years ago, the Texan turned Coeur d'Alene Realtor has jumped headfirst into the house-selling trade.

Not once has he had to show a house more than five times before closing a deal. Not 10 not 15: Five.

The secret, Sparling said, is he listens.

Yes, Sparling is deaf - born that way after nerves in his head were damaged by doctors who used a head-holding instrument called forceps to pull as they delivered him - but it's because he is that he truly understands the value of personal communication.

"My clients love working with me because I listen to what they want," Sparling says at his office building on Northwest Boulevard. "They really love being treated one-on-one."

Sparling reads lips, and is a fluid speaker, but the real reason he averages 27 days to close on a sale?

No secret, he says, waving a hand. It's the ability to correspond.

And in a house, for its occupants, that means open space. The fewer walls, the better. Even for those who can hear, seeing is an important part of communicating.

"Open space kitchen, open space living room, open space dining room," he says. "So if I want to get your attention, I can get your attention. So many houses here have walls."

He doesn't deserve all the credit, he says. Houses around Coeur d'Alene tend to sell themselves. There's the lake, the mountains, the river and the forest. Whatever home buyers want, the landscape offers.

It's what brought Sparling here from Texas. He had worked in the Lone Star State at his own bath and glass business for 13 years before moving north in August with his fiancee, Tanna Carlson.

Now that he's here, there's a list of things to do for all those tomorrows.

In Texas, the deaf population is close to 10 percent, and the transition into the working world was easier for Sparling with more resources available there to help deaf people go to college and train for employment. (He worked one year with Keller Williams in Texas before transferring.)

Idaho's deaf population is 3 percent, and Sparling doesn't want fewer resources to hinder those here. No matter, he says, he'll educate as many as he can.

"Right away he took control and started working on getting the club running," says Darcy Sinsley, event planner for the North Idaho Deaf Club, the 40-member club that was in danger of going under - as the Spokane chapter had - before Sparling took it over in November.

Face-to-face meetings are important, but scarce nowadays. The flip side of technology helping deaf people communicate is that social websites such as Facebook makes it so easy, personal connection is tapering off.

So Sparling kept the standing coffee meeting with North Idaho College Students learning sign language, and is now planning a fundraiser for the club at Silverwood Theme Park Day June 18, with a magic show and interpreters. He also threw one heck of a Christmas party with 100 guests and a signing Santa during the Holidays.

"Ho, ho, ho," Santa laughed for the hearing impaired children, spelling H-O out with his hands close to his beard.

'H' formed with two fingers pointing together inward, like a gun but with the thumb tucked behind the fingers instead of up, followed by closing the fingers in a circle for the 'O.'

Three times in a row.

"The kids get a real kick out of it," Sparling says. "'Thank you, thank you, thank you,' they said."

Now the club, Sinsley says, isn't in danger of closing.

"People are coming around," she says, "they think the club is awesome."

The next step is to become a certified nonprofit, so the club is eligible for grants. That money could be turned into resources, like the video phone Sparling uses to talk to clients. He signs into a video screen, an interpreter then voices the signs to the other end. Or like the device in his phone that types out the spoken word into text so he can read it. Or scholarships for the deaf, or anything to help them train for jobs, and stay here.

Resources and an opportunity is what Keller Williams Realty gave Sparling, a favor he wants to return. And why Sparling admires Keller Williams Board Chairman Gary Keller, who gave Sparling that chance.

"They supported me to be successful," he says.

And always there's tomorrow.

"He's very motivated," says Scott Lewis, Keller Williams Realtor and friend of Sparling.

"Too motivated," Sparling says.

Sparling is teaching Lewis, a former linguist who worked overseas, how to sign. And Lewis is learning bit by bit.

"He's always doing something," Lewis says. "He's a community leader. He'll continue to grow into what he does here."

One of the services Jerry Sparling uses to communicate with real estate clients is an online video conferencing company that uses an interpreter who relays Sparling's sign language conversation to the client and then signs the client's conversation back to Sparling.

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