You've Got to Kiss a Lot of Frogs Before You Meet aCommission
I've got a lot of free time on my hands....
$700,000,000,000. Before we all heard that number and began to try to understand its implications, my real estate business was ticking along just fine. I was showing, listing and selling property. But since that fateful horrifying number wafted through our stagnant collective consciousness, all my clients and customers have frozen in place. But not me. There is always some way to keep idle hands from the devil's work.
What better time to take stock of the land fill that is my office and start chipping away at the flotsam and jetsam overflowing my file cabinets? I'm required by law to keep all records for seven years, up to and including files for all people I've had professional contact with....even if they didn't turn out to be clients who garnered me a commission by selling or buying property. If I discuss so much as the number of bedrooms and baths in a home, I must then disclose my status as a licensed real estate broker, provide them with a pamphlet that explains my fiduciary duties, and keep a file of my dealings with them for seven years.
As I started sorting through these hundreds of file folders, looking at the names, quite a few of them brought back strong memories and emotions......and a few hardy guffaws. One thing you can say about my job is that every transaction, every set of players, is unique. I get a real feel for the true diversity of people, and I often wonder what nature or nurture factors made them the characters that they are!
So here are a few stories from the trenches of real estate brokering. Some are funny, some are sad....some a bit of both. And some are simply weird beyond reckoning.
The Pet Sitter
First let me say am an addicted animal lover. When I enter homes with cats, even skittish-with-strangers cats, they will seek me out and show me who they are. Dogs are equal favorites with me and I only ever met two I didn't like. They were both owned by the same person who was borderline bats-ass crazy. So I didn't blame her dogs, but I still didn't like them. Even so, it's not that hard to take advantage of me when it comes to the well-being of animals.
One hot summer I listed and quickly sold the home of a family who were being job transferred to the mid-west. I was surprised the home sold so quickly, because these nice folks had a lot of pets, and the obligatory pet odors. But it was a solid roomy home in a very desirable semi-rural location. It closed very fast and the sellers were frantically getting ready for the move. The critter contingency included two large mixed breed dogs, one pure-bred toy poodle, two mutantly huge cats, and an unknown number of gerbils. In a cage, who can tell how many gerbils, rats, mice, or other rodents are lurking under the shredded bedding?
I met the family at the title company to pick up their check for the proceeds on the sale of their house, and give them a travel style gift basket. Their furniture had just rolled out on a huge moving truck and they had two vans packed solid with kids, pets, cages, food, and those many possessions essential to the three day drive. All were waiting in the heat of the day for the long journey to begin. But instead of bidding me farewell, my clients frantically asked if I would please, please stay there with the van that held the pets while they drove to a downtown Portland bank to pick up a cashiers check for an account they were closing. It would take no more than an hour. I'd just made several thousand dollars from these clients, and I was concerned for the pets in the heat....how could I say no?
So off the parents and kids drove, as I waited there under a shade tree with the van windows rolled down in 90-something degree heat. The cats & gerbils were in critter containers. But the dogs were loose and free to jump all over the van. There was nothing to keep the dogs from jumping out of the van, so I kept them all leashed and attached to me or the head rests. It occurred to me that if the owners had left me the keys I could at least try to run the air conditioning to keep the pets comfortable, and then I realized I could not even roll the windows up and down. These animals knew me, but that in no way took away from their distress. They'd suddenly been thrown completely out of their comfort zone, and their house, and their People were gone. The fretting commenced; whimpers and mewls became barks and yowls. My voice did not sooth them for long. I did have water to give them, which soon prompted having to walk the dogs over to a grassy strip and let them relieve themselves. One got away and after tying the two others to the van's door handle chasing Gordon the Mastiff-mix around the Skippers & McDonald's parking lots, I managed to get him back to the van where a small crowd of people were peering into the van full of pissed-off whining, hot and hissing animals. The police came and after I explained my predicament, everyone left me to my own devices, which did not include being able to leave the van for any reason. I had a cell phone but when I dialed their number I heard their cell phone ringing.....it was on the floor of the van. After a couple of hours the animals either got tired or acclimated to their situation, but my clients did not show up till it was getting dark....nearly 4 hours later! Turns out they'd stopped for dinner and a quick goodbye visit to Aunt Judy and "time just got away from us". I was too heat-stunned and frustrated to do anything but walk to my car and drive away in search of the nearest rest room. The fact is that I had almost decided to transfer the entire menagerie to my own car and take them home with me. And let the Gods dictate what happened once I got them home with my own pets. Anything would be better than the unknown of sitting in a parking lot with a zoo-load of creatures
It's a delicate situation when A Realtor represents the sellers' interests by listing and marketing their home, and then ends up bringing them a buyer who's asked you to represent them, too. We do have agency disclosures forms and firm rules spelling out exactly how to represent both parties in negotiations without disclosing private information that might be critical to arriving at a mutual agreement....or not. In one transaction I had, the agreement had already been made, we were halfway through the closing process, the house was vacant, and the seller had signed her documents at the title company and left instructions for a direct deposit of funds to her bank. She left town on a cruise vacation. The buyers had also signed, their lender had funded, and checks had been cut. It was the Friday before Labor Day, which meant Monday was a federal holiday, banks and government agencies would be closed. Everything on our deal was done, but the necessary documents had not yet been recorded at the county clerk's office. The buyers had made all their moving-over-the-weekend plans and were anxious to take possession. But at close of business Friday, despite all my phone calls and prodding, no docs were recorded. The house did not belong to them....and so they did not have insurance coverage on it. I was loath to tell them that I could not give them the keys to take possession or start their painting and decorating project till the following Tuesday, after recording the deed and title transfer. The husband was frustrated but took it in stride. His young wife was livid, and threatened me with a number of legal actions. Up until this point they had been extremely happy with my services but viewed this denial of keys as a betrayal of their best interests. My hands were tied. I could not risk my seller being legally liable for any damages or injuries; after all she was still the owner and if there had been any mishaps the buyer's insurance would not have kicked in. I felt really awful about it, and stewed all weekend over some of the verbal slaps I'd taken from the wife.
So on Tuesday, as soon as I got the word from the title company I drove to my appointment with the buyers at their new house to deliver the keys (and a huge housewarming gift basket!) When I arrived the cul de sac was filled with utility vehicles. The whole property was swarming with workers. Landscaping was pulled out and a new fence being built. Carpeting had been torn out and walls painted in bright decorator colors. Hardwood floors were being laid in the kitchen and hall. New light fixtures were already in place. All this could not have been accomplished in just a few hours! It's seems that Friday evening the buyers called a locksmith and had the locks changed. This couple had close contacts in the building industry, and had called in some markers.... and had spent the long weekend ripping up and re-doing a house they did not own!
The Gardener and the Federal Marshall
This story goes back to my greenhorn days of real estate brokering. I'd been in the business less than a year when I got a call from a dear friend of mine, Lara. She's one of those friends who'd moved away after a divorce. I'd gone through my own life changing events about that time, as well. I thought of her often but all too rarely called and talked to her. She told me her ex, Gareth was in need of a Realtor, he needed to sell off his secluded 5 acres and home and shop located about 30 miles from Portland. I remembered the man; a quiet slightly geeky sort of fellow. I had attended a couple of cook-outs and their wedding party on the property many years earlier. They were only married a couple of years when my friend walked out...but he had continued to help her financially, especially with her son from her first marriage. (Some girls never learn.)
So I drove out to the property and met with Gareth, who seemed preoccupiedand hurried, and a lot more anxious than most prospective sellers to get his place sold. If I'd have been more seasoned in the biz I would have taken this as a minor red flag. Without doing a market analysis I still had a good idea of what the place should be listed at, and Larry wanted the contract drawn up and signed right then. I took photos and measurements and left very pleased with myself on a work day well spent.
Three days after I put the listing data into our multiple listing service and put out signs and ads, I got a call from a real estate agent more local to the property. He was also well inside the loop of local movers, shakers, and authorities. He informed me that the property I had listed, the one Gareth warranted by signing the listing contract that he had a legal right to sell.....had recently been seized (before I was asked to list it!) by the Federal Marshall, along with all Gareth's money, bank accounts, vehicles and worldly possessions. It seems that Gareth had got pretty lonely after Lara left him, and after a long stretch of bachelorhood had he finally found a younger live-in girlfriend. They were together for over two years before that fell apart and he asked her to vacate. On her way out of town she called the authorities and informed them of Gareth's secret garden...a 34 X 60 foot pole barn filled with lights, irrigation and hundreds of thriving mature marijuana plants. Gareth had been in jail for a few weeks, and was currently out on a form of supervised probation while he awaited trial and sentencing. He eventually served five years in a federal prison and lost everything he ever owned.... as the feds called his every possession the fruit of ill-gotten gains. Common sense tells me that couldn't possibly be true because the man had a regular job. But they left him with nothing, and I had to talk to the Federal Marshall after sheepishly informing my head broker what a stew I'd landed myself in.
The Chimney Sweep
Here's a lesson in not counting your commissions until they're hatched. One summer I had a very prolonged negotiation between sellers and buyers.....my listing, and another somewhat aggressive agent brought us the buyer. I say aggressive because he did not counsel his buyers that you can get more flies with honey, but instead seemed to goad and prod them into demanding more and more from the sellers. The house was vacant and the sellers had hired professional painters to paint inside and out, and had put in new carpeting. The home had been very well cared for and the sellers took any talk of needed repairs to be a flat out insult. The buyers' professional home inspection had turned up a few small nicks and dings, some of which the sellers repaired, like minor dry rot and a small leak which left unfixed could mean ongoing damage of large proportions. But the buyer had treated the home inspection report like a Sears catalogue of Christmas wishes. They wanted new faucets, sidewalk cracks repaired, and gutters replaced instead of repaired, etc. They wanted the chimney swept. The sellers dug in their heels and said no to most of the issues which were not required to procure the buyers' financing. During the final walk-through with their agent just the day before closing, the buyers had tried to check out the chimney themselves and had opened the flue. We knew that because they buyers called me directly and complained that a "bunch of ashes" fell down into the grate. I politely informed them that the contract was signed and sealed and the sellers were not going to do any more fixing or cleaning, and that some things on their professional home inspection report should just be a very good list of things to be done once the new owner takes title. They huffed at me a bit but went in to sign the closing papers the next day, and the day after that their agent delivered the keys to their new home. When they walked inside they were shocked to see that the freshly painted walls and pale new carpeting were covered in big black splotches of soot, and there was a soot-caked, injured bird gasping his last in the middle of the family room. Murphy's Law had seen to it that during the short time the flue had been left open a single bird, weighing less than a pound, had done a whole lot of damage to the freshly decorated home, trying to escape. The buyers flew (pun intended) to the phone and tried to reverse the title transfer, too late of course. They tried to hold back both agents' commission checks. (and succeeded for a few days). They immediately tried to sue both the sellers and his insurance company, and both agents involved.....but no one could say who actually owned that home while the bird did the damage. But I could say, and the buyers' agent had to admit, that the buyers themselves had left the home open to the avian invasion. They told me themselves they'd opened the flue and seen the ashes fall. So the suit went nowhere.
I've got such a list of stories about life in both the battlefields and green meadows of real estate brokering. If you like these, tell me, and I will write some more!