When things go wrong as they sometimes will…

#358 in a series of true experiences in real estate
April 2001, Hills Newspapers

Many of our clients are people we knew before they talked to us about real estate. We know them from Berkeley Rep theater days, or they called to ask us about something in our newspaper column, or they are friends of friends.

They tend to be people who first want to understand what they’re thinking of doing. This is a wonderful thing. They tell us that they probably will buy or sell but before they decide, they need information, because it is possible they will do nothing.

And so we talk about the pros and cons of buying or selling. We ask what they are trying to accomplish, and why. We think through together how the plan would work, what they would get. It is frequently true that after examination, the plan changes or is abandoned, at least for the time being.

Maybe this kind of collaboration is the reason they chose to talk to us rather than other agents, but it’s more likely they haven’t thought about it much. It isn’t too often that people wonder, “Which agent would be best?” Most people think one agent is as good as another.

Let’s think about this. How clever does your agent need to be anyway?

If you are buying or selling a house, you’re about to go on an uncharted course. You don’t know what lies there. Maybe it will be without mishap or maybe there will be travail. At the very least, surely, you’d hope that your agent speaks your language. While you are sorting out the details, settling on the price of the goods, it would be helpful if you didn’t have to wonder what your guide is saying. It would be great if the two of you are in accord.

Maybe you think of buying or selling as a safe journey, like going to Hawaii on vacation. Let us hope it is exactly that. But you know about vacations. Sometimes there’s a canceled flight, the food is bad, the camp site is too close to people playing loud music.

Wouldn’t a professional fixer of things, someone who understands and can do something about the problem be welcome then?

Things go wrong in real estate, some worse than others: a creek under the living room, a leaky roof, the city being the owner of the part of the road your driveway is on. Because this is so, you could certainly expect that your guide will know more than you do, will see things you would miss, will fight the alligators if they appear.

One woman said to us recently, “I bought my house from an agent five years ago but I wouldn’t go back to her now. She was great at showing us houses, but once we’d made our offer, we could never get hold of her. And when we had a problem with the sellers over the furnace, she seemed very uncomfortable and didn’t want to deal with it.”

This is not a horror story. The woman didn’t lose life or limb or even a lot of money. But she lost faith, and she would not pick that agent again.

If you had heard this opinion of an agent, would that agent be your choice?

Here’s a worse one. We just heard about a sale that ended in a big fight. The seller had offered to pass along to the buyer new kitchen cabinets, appliances and marble countertops he had purchased but never installed.

The seller thought he had made clear what was included. The buyer thought he knew what he was getting. The two agents involved in the sale must have thought they knew too, because neither of them had made a written inventory of the items.

The sale closed, the buyer got his keys, he went to the house. Most of the parts of what would be his new kitchen were stored in the garage but there was no marble for the countertops. The marble, the buyer discovered after making several phone calls to his agent, was still at the marble store. A deposit had been made on the purchase but a large balance remained which, the buyer was dismayed to learn, he would have to pay.

Everyone was mad. It was a mess.

The time to find the right agent is before you begin. You won’t know for sure that you’ve done it until your agent saves the day or simply quiets your anxiety. But you can try, and you should.

Pay close attention when you interview an agent. Listen. Is the agent thinking about you, your specific situation, your plan? It is important to expect more from an agent than (for sellers) the price you might sell for, or (for buyers) letting you inside houses.

You probably can’t imagine this before you begin your journey, but your relationship with your agent will become surprisingly intimate. Preferences you rarely discuss will likely be revealed. Your attitudes about money, friends and family, winning and losing, aesthetics, ethics and other dearly-held beliefs will come up and will play some part in what you are doing.

How trustworthy does your agent need to be?

It may seem at times that it is just the two of you together in a small boat. It will be a help if your boat mate is a strong rower. And if, unhappily, your boat springs a leak, you’ll be mighty glad if your companion can help you get to shore.

This entry was posted in Information for Both Sellers and Buyers. Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

  • Sign up to receive our newspaper columns: