Archive for the ‘Agent advice’ Category
Friday, February 10th, 2017
Real estate agents wear many hats – from negotiator to chauffer to therapist, and that’s just for starters. A real estate agent often must take clients by the hand and walk them through the home search or listing process, as well as the subsequent purchase or sale transaction. But there is one thing that agents need to keep in mind during these busy and sometimes emotional times – responsibility for clients.
Responsibility for one’s clients as it relates to agency comes in many forms – some are spelled out in the ethics code (such as the duty to disclose), and some come from law (such as anti-discrimination, personal injury, tort and criminal law). But many situations with clients fall into a gray area when it comes to responsibility. One of those most important is the responsibility to accompany clients when viewing a property. If an agent does not do so there could be legal ramifications, say for example if an injury or property damage occurs.
Here are some tips to use when showing property to keep you and your clients out of harm’s way and avoid potential legal action:
1. Never let clients visit a property alone. While this seems obvious to many of us, I have read stories of agents giving clients one day lockbox codes or passing along entry instructions. As the representative of your clients you need to understand that this action can land you in hot water – unless you have been authorized by the property owners in writing to allow your clients to enter on their own (and I still would never allow that). Let’s just say there are a handful of legal issues here – from trespassing to other issues of someone gets injured or breaks something, or leaves a door/window open which could allow a thief to access the property.
2. Make sure you stay with your clients as they tour a property. Again, if you allow your clients to wander off it could cause problems. If it is a large property you especially need to stick with your touring clients. Make sure you and they have access to all areas of the property. If your clients have small children and there are potential hazards (steep or dangerous areas or animals, for example), make sure your clients do not wander off alone without permission and without you at their side.
3. Ask the owner or listing agent if you are allowed to access areas about which you are unsure. If there is a part of the property that you are not sure about, ask the listing agent or owner if you have permission to explore there. For example, a guest home, separate structure or animal pen, or flowing water. Oftentimes a listing agent will specify whether such areas are able to be viewed, but if not don’t ever assume.
The bottom line is that if your clients are not in your presence while touring a property, they could end up creating problems or suffering injuries to themselves or their property. If they were being careless and wandering around without permission, they likely will not have rights to recover for injuries suffered. Make sure to establish this right off the bat in order to protect yourself and your clients.
Friday, November 6th, 2015
There are some agents who may disagree with what I am about to say, but calling sellers whose listings have cancelled or expired can be annoying and disrespectful. If that is a method you use to find your next listing, and if it works for you, I am certain you won’t want to change your habits, but consider what some sellers think about the practice.
This week I took a cosmetic fixer listing off the market, as the seller was faced with several challenges and we decided this was her best course of action. I warned her that she would get a lot of phone calls and mail from other listing agents, asking her to list with them instead.
This morning my client received 10-12 phone calls by 9 AM, and one of the agents had even called her before 8 AM – this is extremely rude. She was so offended that she threatened to sue him for harassment should he call again. She disconnected her phone until next week to avoid any further calls.
Personally I have never used this method to find clients – I feel it is invasive and, as my client said, such agents are “hovering vultures.” I compare it to cold calling; many years ago when I was a graduate student I had a job cold calling people on behalf of bond salespeople. Most people were annoyed, as I often am when I get uninvited sales calls. Needless to say I quit that job.
Earlier this year other seller clients of mine had to take their home off market for personal reasons, and had decided to keep their home rather than move. They had SO many calls when we took their home off the market that they were overwhelmed – they said many of the agents were rude and pushy. They too stopped answering their phone for several days.
I am sure there are some agents who are so good at being “salesy” that they actually obtain listing appointments as a result of such calls, but I still personally disagree with the concept and feel it is not classy.
I believe most people nowadays place a high value on privacy, since technology has made it difficult to maintain. If a seller does not have a number listed chances are he or she does not want to be contacted. If you are an agent who chooses to solicit sellers with expired or cancelled listings, my advice is to use the mail – that puts the choice in the sellers hands whether to contact you, and saves a lot of aggravation.
Thursday, September 10th, 2015
Recently I had a sale fall apart at the 11th hour, and it could have easily closed had the buyer’s agent been in constant communication with his client’s mortgage professional. It was very frustrating for my seller, who was trying to accomplish a 1031 exchange and close the sale prior to closing a purchase – she ended up canceling a sale after issuing a notice to perform and close escrow. This could have been prevented, but a few people dropped the ball, including the agent.
If you are a buyer’s agent, please read on. If you are a buyer, also please read on and make sure your agent is doing his/her part to assure you close escrow on your next home.
If you are a buyer’s agent you must stay in constant communication with your buyer’s mortgage professional. You can never sit back and assume things are going smoothly. It is NOT the listing agent’s job to chase your client’s mortgage professional.
All buyer’s agents need to do the following in every sale, even if the mortgage professional seems to be on top of things – because the minute you know there is a problem, the better chance you have of helping to remedy it.
- Call and email the mortgage person immediately upon getting an offer accepted – introduce yourself and provide all your contact information.
- Forward the contract and related documents to that person right away, including a synopsis of deadlines (I like to email this and highlight it – even though the mortgage professional will have all the information in the contract, it helps to remind them).
- Check in with the mortgage person several times a weeks to get a progress report, or let him/her know right off the bat that you would like a progress report emailed to you on Tuesday and Friday, even if there is not much to say. If you don’t get it, call or email.
- Make sure you get any further documentation to the mortgage professional right when it is requested.
If you already have a relationship with a preferred lender you know how that person works, and that will undoubtedly help you and your buyer. I know when I am working with my preferred lender, and a few others out there who have great communication skills, that I will always know what is going on with my client’s loan and there will be no surprises.
As the old adage goes, no one can do it better than you can do yourself – so buyer’s agents: please take those words to heart and make sure you are on top of your transactions. You will make your clients very happy in doing so and you will be more successful.
Wednesday, April 8th, 2015
Dear Listing Agent,
Have you asked yourself whether you are truly representing your sellers to the best of your abilities? There may be other agents who would argue that you are not doing so. Maybe you do not like your job or are overwhelmed (in which case, you need to make some changes, get some help, or get out), or maybe you just need a little advice. The most important way to get that home sold is to make sure you do the following:
1. Be courteous to buyers’ agents. This is a business built on COOPERATION. In fact, without it no homes would sell. With that in mind I have to tell you that you need to be nice and respectful to buyers’ agents. If you are rude, non-responsive, curt or make snide remarks to other agents who may sell your listing, then you are not adequately representing your seller.
2. Answer your phone/return calls. If I had a dollar for every time I have called a listing agent and that person did not get back to me for a long time, I would have a lot of money saved. Many agents do not answer their phones on the weekend (hello? Does your seller know this?), which is precisely when many buyers are out there looking at homes. I have had buyers want to write offers but needed questions answered, and the listing agent was nowhere to be found. If you cannot answer your phone then you need to forward the calls to someone who can.
3. Make buyers’ agents and their clients feel welcome. This may be similar to #1 above, but there are actually agents who come to the showings and hang around, making buyers feel uncomfortable. I recently had this happen. When we came back for a second showing the agent stepped out, but made some comments to me later about how long my clients stayed at the property that I felt were rude. (Obviously they were deciding whether it would work – the property needed a lot of updating and was over priced, but they liked it and wanted to be sure. I would rather that happen then instead of once we were in contract).
4. Make sure your listing is easy to access. I know it can’t be helped sometimes, but listings that require 24 hours notice or have crazy viewing times make it difficult for buyers. Many buyers work during the day and want to see properties after work or on the weekends. The easier the home is to see, the more opportunities for your seller.
The bottom line is that listing agents need to be present and involved with their listings. I am sure sellers in most cases are not aware when their agent is not cooperating/being rude, etc. I am also sure that if sellers knew these things, there are a handful of listing agents who would not get many listings.
The most important thing to keep in mind when listing a property is that you owe a FIDUCIARY duty to your sellers – if you are not representing them in the best capacity possible then you are breaching that duty. Please, consider your actions and always remember to treat other agents with the respect they deserve. It will benefit all parties in the long run and you will have a solid reputation (within the community and with other agents) as a listing agent.
Wednesday, October 29th, 2014
Not long ago someone commented that I have the ideal job, since I am able to take time off whenever I want and live a leisurely lifestyle. Good thing there wasn’t any liquid in my mouth at the time, as it likely would have spewed out all over the commentator (pardon the image). The misperception that real estate agents have “easy” jobs is not uncommon, since we do not have to punch a time card or physically sit behind a desk all day (although there are many days I do that…and nights too). But in reality working in the real estate industry is like riding a roller coaster, with the highs and lows, periods of being excessively busy and then dead, and periods where the paychecks are coming and then stop.
The career of a real estate agent has been glorified in these last few years by all the “reality” real estate television shows. Shows like Million Dollar Agent portray agents driving expensive cars, wearing high-end suits, spending long business lunches in top restaurants and listing (and quickly selling – with little negotiation I may add) million dollar plus properties. They really look like they are living the life!
Of course, those shows are heavily edited, not to mention scripted. You don’t see the nitty gritty – the money and time the agents spend on marketing the homes, the numerous showings, all the paperwork the agents need to handle, preparation for listing presentations and meetings, inspections and negotiations over things that may come up during escrow. So, if I knew absolutely nothing about the business I can see how it might look like an ideal career based upon the shows.
The truth is that this business is H-A-R-D. If you want to be successful, you have to work your tail off, and I know I work harder than many of my friends who have jobs in other fields. I can’t come home and escape my work, because it never stops. Most people who buy and sell homes expect me to be available after hours, when they are off work…and on weekends. Sure, I could decide not to answer my phone or work when I’m needed, but then I wouldn’t be successful. The key to my success is referral business, which I will only get if my clients feel I did a job that is beyond outstanding. Many of my clients have worked with other agents in the past, and the biggest compliment I get is when they tell me their experience with me, compared to the last agent, was like night and day. (To read more about what real estate agents do, read this article.)
Today I continued to work on a major issue that has arisen in a home sale that is in escrow. The time and energy I have spent on this issue is great, and it has been very stressful for all parties involved but we are finally making progress. This morning my client said to me, “I seriously don’t know how you do this!” Believe me, there are days when I ask myself that question, but ideally there are two things that keep me on the roller coaster:
1. I love my clients. I really do. Buying or selling a home is not only a big decision, but it is also an emotional one and it has legal ramifications. I feel good that I can offer advice and guidance to clients so that they can get through the process and feel great when it’s over. I love seeing them happy in the end, and that is my goal. It means I have to work hard to achieve the end result, but it also means that I end up with new friendships. I have met the most remarkable people working in this business, and it has been a pleasure to help them.
2. I have to keep making a difference in this industry. If you are a regular blog reader you know that I dish out frustration with the real estate industry and the lack of adequate training for agents. Sadly, there are a lot of agents who either don’t really care about their jobs, or do not realize that they need better training and skills to work in this industry. I know that my dedication and skills do make a difference, and if I can help improve this industry and the reputation it has, one client at a time, then I am making a difference. Like I always say, if you don’t like what you do, than do something else, because it shows. [As an aside, I have had other agents tell me they “hate” being agents…I wonder if their clients know that -?]
I think my ride on the real estate roller coaster will last for a while, and I hope that during that time I can make a difference in the lives of those I help, agents with whom I work, and the industry in general. If every other agent, or person working in any field, does the same then together we will make a big difference in the world.
Friday, August 29th, 2014
Because we live in a litigious society, if you are a real estate agent or broker there is always the threat of litigation hanging over your head. Working on a daily basis with contract and legal consequences, we all need to keep vigilant to protect ourselves. If you are named in a lawsuit or go into arbitration proceedings, keep in mind that you may have to pay the full cost of your errors and omissions insurance deductible.
Here are some ways to help you stay away from the arbitration table and out of the courtroom:
1. Have your broker review all your contracts. Unfortunately this is not something that is done with every contract in every brokerage, but it should be. Many brokers review the contracts and related documentation towards the end of the sale. If there were any egregious errors or omissions it may be too late at that time. I have often wondered why the local boards who make the rules do not make it a requirement that a broker review every contract before it is sent out. I have seen more poorly written contracts than I can count, and one recently where the buyers’ agents actually designated me as the representative of their client! Needless to say, I make a lot of phone calls to brokers.
You may think you know how to write a contract and you may have many years of experience doing so, but if you are not a lawyer it is a benefit to you to have broker review every time – it could save your behind and your pocketbook.
2. Do not draft any addenda without legal or broker advice, as the wording needs to be approved to avoid legal ramifications. Remember, only attorneys are allowed to draft contracts. Most agents freely draft addenda and amendments all the time, but this really needs to stop. There are ways to word changes in order to make sure that the intended result is properly defined and cannot be construed any other way. Many agents may disagree with me here, but we need broker review on any documents related to the contract, because it can be construed as practicing law.
3. Never give legal advice to clients. Almost every agent knows that this is a big no-no, but as a lawyer I have personally heard countless agents say things to their clients that either is legal advice or is on the cusp of being classified as such. If a question involves anything about the contract other than general answers (such as expiration dates, how long a contingency period lasts or where to sign, for example), then advise your clients to seek the advice of an attorney.
4. Read the contract and all related documentation before your clients sign anything, every time. You might think I am crazy, but I know for a fact that many agents either have never read the documents they have their clients sign, or do not read them often. I know this because I see mistakes all the time. I know it is boring (we lawyers write a lot of words to cover every point), but I promise you that this will benefit both you and your clients.
This comment is timely, as the California Association of Realtors is about to launch a new Residential Purchase Contract. Take the free classes that will be offered to learn about this new contract and how the changes will affect your clients and the way you fill out your contracts. The same goes for all locales and all paperwork. Your association likely always offers classes on learning the proper paperwork you’ll need as a real estate agent. If not, talk with your broker.
5. Read through all paperwork after it has been signed to make sure you didn’t miss anything. I don’t think this needs explanation. Let’s just say that I am appalled by things that are left out in contracts all the time…things that likely would have been discovered by proof reading, and certainly by broker overview.
The only way to avoid problems is to be vigilant, and doing so in real estate means understanding all forms, staying educated about changes and ramifications, never giving legal advice, and having all your paperwork reviewed by your broker. The hassle it may create will be nothing compared to being dragged into arbitration or court.
Monday, April 28th, 2014
The number one question people ask me, and it happens all the time, is why am I a real estate agent. It comes up as soon as they find out I am an attorney…they look at me with this confused expression and say “why are you doing this?” as if what I do is shocking. Obviously I enjoy what I do, and while there are many other reasons why I continue to work as an agent (I love my clients, I think I make a difference with my legal background, I feel the industry needs more people with advanced skills, etc.), I think this is not a career choice to be taken lightly.
Back in the housing boom days (circa early 2000s) everyone was applying for real estate licenses. It was the place to be, the thing to do…wow, so much money to be made (so everyone thought). There were many new agents who were selling real estate as a secondary career, who actually went to work all day at another job and then thought they could keep the real estate job evenings and weekends. As soon as the market started slowing, and eventually crashing, there was a mass exodus and the agent pool diminished exponentially (which obviously distinguishes the keepers from those who only focused on the money…but I digress).
Last year there was a jobs report released that claimed real estate agents were the number one happiest group of workers in America. In 2013 and 2014 there have been increases in agent pools yet again, according to reports. But it seems many new agents are younger tech-savvy types career types who want to succeed and revolutionize the business, as opposed to the slightly older crowds from the early 2000s who chased the money.
Following are some important points you should consider if you are contemplating a career as a real estate agent or broker:
1. Focus on the career. Unlike a job where you go into an office every day and have specific tasks to accomplish, real estate agents are only as successful as the work they put into their careers, especially during the slow times. There are many days with no appointments scheduled, and these are the days you have to plan – if you do not have a business plan you will not make any money. To be a career agent you need to work at least full-time. You need to have a marketing budget and plan, you need to keep in touch with all your clients (and you need to learn how to accumulate a client database if you are new, which takes many years and a willingness to go without making money while you are establishing your connections), you need to attend training seminars and meet as many industry people as you can (mortgage professionals, title people, and other service providers who can possibly refer business your way).
There is so much you can do to build your career, but you have to put in the sweat and the time; it won’t happen overnight. The idea is to be in a position to know where your next sale might come from, and to have many possibilities. You have to fill your pipeline with possibilities, and only you can do this. The old adage “you get out of it what you put into it” is true in real estate.
2. Full time job. Many people have the idea that real estate is a part time job, and that they can make their own hours and work on their own schedule. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While it may be easier to attend your child’s recital during a work day if you are an agent vs. an office employee, you are not going to be successful in this industry unless you put in the time. When you are not showing or marketing houses, you need to be marketing, studying the new inventory, meeting with clients, and planning your next steps. Your career will flourish depending on the work you put into it.
3. Ongoing education. Like with any field, a real estate agent needs to keep learning. At the start it is important to receive a strong education on how to proceed with real estate sales and listings. An agent should read through ALL the paperwork s/he will be using, and should understand all legal ramifications. Continuing education and keeping up with new rules and procedures will make better agents and lead to fewer legal problems.
4. Keep up with technology. Real estate has changed immensely because of technology. Buyers and sellers have access to much of the information that used to be held exclusively by real estate brokers and agents. In order to succeed in the real estate industry you have to be willing to continually learn new technologies and be on top of things. You don’t have to use them all, but need to be aware of those that can make your clients’ experience better and help you find new clients who appreciate your skills.
5. Reliable Inconsistency. (I love oxymorons) A career in real estate can guarantee inconsistency. Like any job where one is paid on commissions only, a real estate agent can have a month or months of consistent paychecks, and then a month/months (even longer for some) with no paycheck at all. It is never something you will get used to, if you are a planner or like consistency, and it is the number one reason why people leave the business. After 11 years in real estate I have learned to be smart with my money and to put it away for rainy days, and how to budget marketing to make the most of it. If you are good with sticking to a plan and follow all of the above, you should be able to fill up your pipeline so that you keep busy. Make inconsistency your motivator.
The real estate industry is exciting and has changed drastically over the years, and it will continue to do so as we head toward the future. Real estate agents can bring great value to home and commercial sales, but only if they are stay focused on their careers, stay educated, keep up with technology, and learn how to use inconsistency to their advantage. Being a well-rounded agent will not only benefit you, but also your clients.
Friday, April 18th, 2014
Most people think all real estate professionals do is sell homes. Those of us in the industry, or should I say those of us who view real estate as a profession and not just a part time job, understand that as agents and brokers we really wear many hats – we educate, help plan, offer designing and staging advice, research, market, and counsel…which has many subcategories, from advisor (of course being careful never to offer legal or financial advice, unless you are an attorney or financial advisor) to therapist.
Taking great care of clients requires a variety of skills, including patience, dedication and the ability to teach and communicate. Most importantly, it involves compassion – those who excel at client care see every real estate sale as not just a paycheck, but as a big decision for their clients, and the clients’ needs and concerns are and should be the top priority. This is not as easy as it may seem, and sadly there are agents who are not able to properly care for their clients.
Here are some great ways to make sure you are giving your clients what they need from day one:
1. Communication is key: phone calls, email/text reminders. Communication is obviously key to a successful relationship. Find out how your clients like to receive information and call or send (or both) reminders a few days before, such as when paperwork is due, inspection dates, or when contingencies need to be removed.
2. Provide a playlist. No matter who your client may be – a first time homebuyer, second home buyer, investor, seller or distressed seller – everyone benefits from having a list of what to expect. From the start it is helpful to provide a playlist of what your client can expect from you and how the process works. When you list a home or open escrow with a buyer, you should present your client with a list of dates and timelines, highlighting what will happen and what is needed from the client at what times. I also include what I will be doing in these lists. Of course, a list for a first time homebuyer will likely contain more information compared to one for an investor, but nonetheless this is a great tool.
3. Calendar. I like to include a calendar with my list, with each item from the list entered on the calendar, since people have different preferences as to how to decipher information. It may see redundant but it is a visual aide and many people like this.
4. Let clients know how to reach you, and be available. Believe it or not this is very important. Clients want to feel that they can get a hold of you if they have questions or concerns. I have had several people tell me they didn’t like their last agent because s/he was hard to get a hold of.
Helping others is really the crux of the real estate business. Buying or selling a home is one of the biggest decisions of many peoples’ lives, and agents need to keep this in mind. Help your clients to understand the process. If there are concerns, figure out how to address them so that the clients can decide whether to proceed or not. If you do the right thing you will be rewarded far beyond expectations down the road, and you will enjoy your work.
Monday, April 14th, 2014
In my 11 years in the real estate industry I have learned many important lessons, but by far one of the most important is that agents have a right to choose, and they should not be afraid to do so.
In real estate there are more agents than there are buyers and sellers. Oftentimes agents compete for business – and there are many who will do whatever it takes to secure that listing or “win” that buyer. Of course in the end the buyer or seller is the one who will make the choice and decide with whom they feel the most comfortable, but as agents we too have can choose whether we want to work with that potential client.
I learned the hard way years ago when I took a listing that literally ended up making me sick. I had a seller who did not treat me with respect and constantly blamed me for the home not selling (in reality, this seller did not want to listen to my advice nor to what the comparable home sale values indicated). That was a red flag for me, but I figured the seller would come around and so I proceeded to market the home on the seller’s terms.
Needless to say, the home ended up selling many months down the road for the price I originally suggested, and after many marketing dollars and much effort on my part. I also had to relist it (which I was not going to do but since the seller practically begged me to do so I laid some ground rules about how I was to be treated – which were short-lived in practice). The entire process was beyond stressful and took over the bulk of my work hours, and when the seller called or I drove by the home I felt anxious.
These days I trust my instincts right off the bat. I met a potential seller not long ago and made the decision I could not work with that person. A commission is just not worth the stress of working with someone who does not respect and appreciate hard work.
The bottom line is that agents can be choosy too, and keeping sane and preventing burn-out is more important than a paycheck…at least in my book. Those who do not agree will likely find themselves unhappy very quickly, which will have a negative effect on how others perceive their work. I’d rather continue to enjoy what I do, and have others notice that!
Monday, June 10th, 2013
For many real estate agents the paperwork involved in the sale of a home can be difficult, but it is also of utmost importance. Unfortunately a large percentage of agents lack either the knowledge or patience (or both perhaps ?) to properly handle this task, and this needs to be addressed in our industry.
From a legal standpoint there are agents who, on almost a daily basis, are setting themselves or their clients up for potential lawsuits. Here’s a great example: three times in the last week alone I have seen poor examples of paperwork skills, from sloppy and missing papers, to erroneously filled out disclosures (where the agent obviously did not review the client’s disclosures before presenting them to the buyers’ agent, me – this happened twice in the last week, by two different agents), to sending disclosures that are not on correct, updated forms.
Paperwork is of utmost importance in a home sale, as what one says, or neglects to say, could subject one to liability down the road. Now, it is understandable that most agents are not attorneys, but there are still ways for any agent to master paperwork skills, and here they are:
1. Broker responsibility: In my professional and legal opinion, no paperwork should go out for signatures without broker review…yes, even for those very experienced agents. Those who want to avoid this can get a broker’s license. But in all reality there is just not enough oversight in our industry and this leads to lawsuits. Personally as a broker I would NEVER want someone out there representing my company who is doing a sloppy job! Every broker should have such a clause in the employment contract – either the broker or a designated person inside the company should review everything before anything goes out for signatures. Call me over-the-top, but this is how I would do it.
2. Better training: this goes hand in had with the above: brokerages simply need to have more and better training. When an agent joins a firm s/he should learn how to handle paperwork, and that includes going through EVERY form…tedious but it will ensure better skills and fewer lawsuits. Many agents have probably never actually read many of the forms anyway. Furthermore, there should be training sessions held whenever new forms are released to make sure all agents understand any changes.
3. Have a checklist in your file: Every agents should have a checklist so they can see what papers have been fully executed and which still need to be submitted for signatures. This is imperative – those agents who fly by night and have no idea what forms are required are just asking for trouble.
4. Use a transaction coordinator! This is a GREAT way for anyone to stay on top of paperwork, and a very simple way, albeit at a cost (but you can shop around) to avoid potential legalities down the road. Make sure your TC is experienced; the best way to find one is to ask around and then interview the recommended person/team.
5. Review all paperwork filled out by your clients before sending them off to the other side: this is especially important if you are the listing agent and your client is filling out disclosures. You need to review them and see if your clients have failed to answer any questions, or left out information of which you are aware (e.g. if there is an HOA and the client did not check the box so indicating – this has happened several times in paperwork I have received from sellers).
6. When in doubt: ASK! There is always someone you can ask for help when you are not sure about which form to use or how to fill out a particular form. It is more important to admit you have no clue than to just “wing it” and submit paperwork that may contain errors.
Anyone can fill out paperwork correctly, so there is no reason to ever send over papers that are faulty. Use the above points to make sure you protect your clients, and you will not only be a hero, but you will be acting in a professional manner and doing the right thing.