I just got back from Montreal, a great city. We were there for five days and it was an amazing break. I knew I needed it, but I didn’t know how badly.
But of course I’m a Realtor, so I kept working a little. In particular, I had a listing with an active bid, so I had told all parties that I thought my phone would work in Canada and we could keep tossing the ball back and forth.
And indeed, my phone did work in Canada (the trick, which I had picked up from previous international travels, was to call the phone company before I left). My sellers are from overseas, so we were all already used to the romance of different countries.
"If you can call me from Ireland," I told them, "I can certainly call you from Quebec."
The sadness was that the buyers and the sellers were still a little bit apart on price. The buyers have been coming up, and the sellers have been coming down, but we hadn’t managed to meet in the middle. I got the listing around Christmas Eve, so my feeling was that it’s early in the season and if the sellers are willing to risk letting a bird in the hand go, let’s market it some more.
I tried to say this in the nicest way possible to the buyer’s agent. She was fantastic — organized, courteous, the very picture of the agent that you want on the other side of the table. But I was also aware that behind her were some first-time buyers, and we might want to talk to them in a couple of months if they didn’t buy something else, and that even if they did, they were nice people and we didn’t want them to feel "rejected."
That was all two weeks ago. Fast-forward to a week later, when we came home to an avalanche of work.
Yes, it was a four-day week, but everyone still wanted all of their stuff done. And of course we have no clean clothes because we just returned from the land of 18-degree weather, where you’d wear three outfits at once.
In the middle of all this I see an e-mail from an agent who had listed an apartment that we looked at for ourselves — it says, roughly, "Hey, my bidders are lining up. If you want this you need to get in the game."
Well, we’re not really ready to be in the game. We have some cash from selling the beach house, so we could take it and buy someplace cheap, but if we want a fancy apartment we have to sell our studio. As lousy as the Manhattan market is turning out to be, no one seller wants to wait on a trade-up buyer to sell their old place.
Still, you have to play the hand you have, and I explained all this to the listing agent. We made a lowish bid (18 percent off list) which, in a world where properties are selling for an average of 7.2 percent off list, is a little short but not jerkily so. I pointed out to the agent that it was a starter, and to get more cash we would have to sell our place.
Well, I expected one of two responses from the seller: either "Hey, I’ll give them the contingency, but they have to be otherwise perfect buyers, paying list price without a peep," or "What, are you crazy? Let them sell their place first and then come back, but to encourage them I’ll shave 3 percent off list for my counter?"
Instead we got: Bid rejected. No counter.
I know that this is a business transaction so there really isn’t such a thing as "manners," but the other agent was still a little embarrassed by his seller’s lack of engagement. I had to draw it out of him: "What, no counter?"
It then ended up as one of those terrible scenarios where I’m just doing the girl job of telling him it’s OK and he hasn’t broken my heart by giving me bad news, and him stumbling over his words a little as he tried to tell me we weren’t strong candidates.
You know what? I knew we were terrible candidates. This is not a revelation to me.
What did surprise me was that the selling agent didn’t have a readier bedside manner to deal with it. I guess one approach would have been a curt cutoff, figuring that he’d never see us again, and another would have been a gentle rejection, figuring that I’m an agent and he is going to deal with me again in some other capacity.
But I got neither, because he was himself taken aback — and, here’s the thing, this situation is going to happen again. Somewhere, somehow, some seller is going to reject a buyer’s bid.
The question is: How does an agent deal with that?
I think the answer must have to do with whether the agent thinks he’ll see the buyer again, but I would argue that the default is: you sell. I gave the listing agent the "we’re-still-interested-in-other-listings-in-the-building-so-let’s-be-friends" line, but he should have given it to me.
We real estate agents are very transaction-oriented in this business, and it’s going to get worse as our margins get thinner.
But in cases where the extension from the transaction to the relationship isn’t hard ("Do you mind if I put you on a mailing list for the next one?") it’s worth doing.
I think back to the buyer I worked with a few weeks ago who wanted things that were too expensive for her budget. You know what? She liked me well enough to try to work with me.
If I don’t send her an e-mail every six weeks or so to check up on how she’s doing — and remind her that I’m a Realtor who she likes and might want to refer friends to — whose fault is that?
Alison Rogers is a licensed salesperson and author of "Diary of a Real Estate Rookie."
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