Is it me, or is everyone just a little crazy lately? I’m feeling like there aren’t enough straitjackets to go around, and I’ll be darned if I am giving up mine.
I know that my one-week sampling of shenanigans is not statistically significant. Real estate is like a game of cards. You are dealt a hand, and play it you must. Each round is different. It’s just that this week, someone forgot to take out the jokers, and I pulled them all.
At no time during my license preparation did I receive formal training in clinical psychology, but I am now wishing I had pursued this area as a minor. It’s not enough sometimes to be good, even great, at what we do — to be diligent in the execution of our duties, honest in our dealings, noble in our intentions, and extreme in our care. We also have to be counselor, teacher, parent, friend and the "Great Karnak" all wrapped into one.
"San Diego Castles Realty. This is Kris," I chirped gaily into the phone.
"Are you the owner of the house?" demanded my inquisitor.
I used the ensuing silence to contemplate a thoughtful response. The one I live in? The one you are renting? One which I have listed? Deciding it was best to not just guess, I forged boldly ahead.
"The one for sale."
That narrows it down — to about 11,000 in San Diego County. Now we were getting somewhere.
"May I ask your name?" I said.
"I wanna see it in an hour. Does it have a big yard? Is it on a corner lot? How much is it?"
Dang. I can’t ever find that decoder ring when I need it. During the 10-minute lightening round that followed, I was able to gather, if not the caller’s name, at least the essential information: not on a corner; my listing; not a big yard; and her uncle, the licensed agent, was welcome to show it to her when he returned from his golfing outing.
Moving on, I anted up. It was time to book a showing for another property.
"May I show your listing at 10:30 tomorrow?" I politely asked of the agent.
"I took the lockbox off. Too much stuff on it," the agent barked. …CONTINUED
Again, I found myself in contemplative mode, left to only imagine what in the heck she was talking about. Were there too many push buttons with numbers? Has the overgrown ivy started to impede the proper functioning of the internal mechanisms? Were migrating snails making a rest stop on the shackle? Nah, it’s too early in the season. So I let it go.
"I see this is a short sale. How do you handle yours? Do you continue to submit all offers to the lender while you are awaiting approval, or do you submit the first, highest offer and protect them?" I asked.
"No," she stated emphatically, followed by more silence.
Well, then. The home in the multiple listing service with no photos and too much stuff on the now-absentee lockbox was to remain a mystery. And we wonder why people tend to respect us about as much as, say, the organ grinder’s dancing monkeys. (You know the ones. They wear little hats, they are cute, and they make people laugh. At least people throw pennies at them.)
I’m a trained professional, so I shrug it off. And I’m a gamer, so I check my e-mail (for the 14th time this morning). It’s the usual — a bunch of ads for a drug to enhance something I don’t possess, several offers for seminars on how to make buckets of money in a down market which will, in turn, allow me to smugly mock those other, lesser and now starving agents who weren’t smart enough to attend, and the obligatory e-mail from an agent confirming receipt of my client’s purchase offer in which he thanked me.
"I know how hard you worked to bring this offer to the table, and we appreciate your efforts," he wrote.
This one I forwarded to my client with a note along the lines of "The eagle is in the nest. I will let you know when I receive their response."
Next came the part I didn’t see coming. I was summarily summoned to what turned out to be a 90-minute meeting wherein I was browbeaten for everything from breach of agency duties to war crimes to, if I recall correctly, the popularity of hip-hop. The real issue, though, was that when my client read how much the agent appreciated my hard work, she concluded that I had been bad-mouthing her.
"It is professional courtesy," I tried to explain. "He was being cordial."
"It sounds like you told him that I was difficult to deal with, and you had to work really hard to make me write this offer. I just can’t trust you. I don’t know who you are representing."
Oh, and it turns out that my whimsical, written update was "unprofessional." Huh? Next time, I will choose my words more carefully, I assured, apologizing for being conversational. "The offer on the home originally visited a fortnight ago and displaying your legally valid endorsement was delivered forthright pursuant to our verbal agreement as recorded in the meeting minutes. This required no effort on my part whatsoever in as the recipient for whom this is intended is a delight with which to work."
Now, being personally chastised for the better part of two hours because another agent thanked me for submitting an offer — an offer my client insisted I write on a Sunday night during dinner — was not my idea of a good time, not to mention it defied logic. But I can’t fold. It’s true that to be a doormat you have to lie down. But once a fiduciary relationship has been established, I am legally obligated to maintain the prone position. The choice is no longer mine.
And then I was Zillowed.
My crowning transgression involved a short-sale listing, which, in appraisal fashion, we shall call "the subject property." It is a property that has been in pending status for many dozens of fortnights (as short sales so often are). My client, one whose own home is in escrow and is located in the same neighborhood as the subject property, called me to call me to the carpet. It was a different rug, but the pattern was similar.
"That home sold three weeks ago, according to Zillow. This was information we should have been given. We can’t trust you. We wonder what else you aren’t telling us." …CONTINUED
The problem is that I didn’t know! The listing agent never changed the status in the MLS, and the listing agent has elected not to return my many calls regarding the "approximate" sale price. Call me lazy, but since she lives in a different city I haven’t taken the initiative to pay her a personal visit. And, as thorough as I am, I do not generally spend my days validating MLS data by cross-checking the county tax records — much less a third-party Web site with curious home valuations.
It turns out that none of this was good enough. Sometimes nothing is good enough. I sense that the tidal wave of mistrust for real estate agents is gaining momentum. So many of our clients, it seems, have relatives in faraway states who are themselves agents, and they are all very generous with advice on how we might be doing our job better.
So many have friends who have "bought and sold a lot of real estate" — practiced friends never short on helpful marketing ideas and constructive criticism. The market is a slower one, so as soon as the first showing has concluded and before the would-be buyer has fully backed out of the driveway, the honeymoon is over.
We often spend the rest of our tour of duty on triple-secret probation, heavily scrutinized by the customer and their vast social network of real estate experts.
Too much information can work as a positive system of checks and balances and lead to healthy collaborative relationships, or it can simply serve to support the perception of a growing number of consumers who see us as the opportunistic, unlearned child needing constant oversight and discipline. This is because everyone is now an authority.
Despite this, I don’t blame the consumer.
It’s exasperating when you know that you have done everything right and still find yourself relegated to a Realtor time-out. Yet too much of it we have brought on ourselves.
Every time we don’t answer our phones or return our calls, and each time we choose not to cooperate with our colleagues or represent our clients with all the vigor we can muster, we get what we deserve.
When we continue to operate under the belief that possessing a license alone entitles us to a paycheck while we shuttle our clients (relatives or otherwise) off to the phone banks to fend for themselves, we further the notion that we can’t be left unsupervised.
Failing to update our listings in our own cooperative system or to post a single photo (even a grainy drive-by shooting) according to board rules may seem like minor infractions. But we can’t expect respect if we treat our work with indifference.
It’s the weakest-link theory, and it’s making me crazy. Maybe the deck was just stacked this week and I suffered a lot of bad hands, or maybe the game has really changed. In any event, I am looking forward to next week and a new shuffle.
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