A real estate career is one of excitement and intrigue. The work is highly personal and can be intensely satisfying. At the same time it can present deep challenges — challenges associated with conquering new technological frontiers and helping to redefine and retool an entire industry.
Sure, real estate can be all of those things. But if you are an agent, you know that we spend the majority of our time not on higher-level thinking but bogged down with the mundane. Such has been my week. Not only have I been too busy to find my big thinking cap, I am about ready to stomp on the sucker. This week, I have been too busy playing Builder Bob.
We have been hearing it for years. The role of the real estate agent is changing. The naysayers, party poopers intent on ruining our good time, tell us that we are on our way out, an antiquated breed that will soon be following in the footsteps of others who unknowingly took dead-end jobs — like bank tellers, travel agents, and William Shatner. I am here to tell you that they are wrong. Our jobs are quite secure. If we’re gone, who’s going to be held responsible when the dishwasher stops working?
"Your Agent for Life!" — I’ve seen it on agents’ business cards for years, but it was only this week that I finally and fully understood the meaning. We are agents for life, not only in the sense that we will be there to assist you with your next move, but in that every time anything goes wrong that is even remotely related to the home you purchased, we will be the go-to guys. It’s for life, alright, and with no time off for good behavior.
Each week, I spin the calendar to determine which day will be my day off. The whole day-off notion is an imaginary one, of course, but like a trooper I refuse to give up without a fight. This week, Sunday got the nod, and a typical day off it was. I wrote an offer, I presented an offer, and then I enjoyed an hour or so of Zen paralysis as I gazed at a steaming mound of transactional documents, which simply refuse to scan themselves.
Operation File Upload clearly doomed to failure, I decided on a whim to get a massage. This would not be the happy kind you see in the magazines where the toned supermodel reconnects with her centered self through the miracles of massage therapy, but the kind your doctor might recommend should you wish to ever walk fully upright again after too many years hunched over a computer. And as I lie staring at the floor listening to an unknown sitar-strumming artist’s rendition of Clair de Lune delivered from a remote rain forest (or from a garage in Jersey with a ruptured water heater being attacked by bunch of noisy birds — sometimes it’s hard to tell), all I could think about was, well, water heaters.
You see, on my days off, I also take calls and return e-mails, and this day had been no exception. My help desk is open seven days a week. The buck stops here. My people need me.
This day they had needed me for a variety of reasons, each more urgent than the next. The buyer who had moved into my client’s former home was in a panic because the water dispenser on the refrigerator was no longer "making water." Another had a true crisis on his hands; he had flipped a light switch and two bulbs blew out — at once! It was the third who had the most horrific story to tell. As it was recounted to me by his agent, he turned on the hot water and it took "several minutes" to heat up. Oh, the humanity!
We spend months identifying properties or marketing them and negotiating contracts; we spend 30 to 60 days navigating our escrows toward successful completion; and then we spend the rest of our lives manning the switchboard. We do it because we know our industry is one of relationships. We do it because we know the importance of customer satisfaction, which can lead to repeat business and referrals. And we do it because it is easier to accept responsibility for the missing tub stopper than to explain the gory details and the resulting pain and suffering of a failed bath time to the presiding judge.
I took the call when the seller’s moving truck backed over the mailbox and, since the movers were sticking to their story ("Prove it!"), someone had to fix it. I answered again when the buyer needed to report on coyote sightings in his new, canyon-rim neighborhood. My husband took the call when our clients said they couldn’t sleep during their first night in their new home because termites where "flying all over the bedroom." They weren’t termites, of course, but it took a few group therapy sessions and a service call from the exterminator to resolve the case of the harmless mystery bugs.
All of these incidents shared one thing in common — the implication of a failure to disclose. Except the mailbox. That was clearly my negligence.
The savvy buyer now knows that by simply uttering "disclosure" under their breath, they will have 47 agents, like magic, offering to take out their trash, replace their broken sprinkler head and rewire their electrical panel. We won’t reroof the house, however. We have our limits, so we rely on subcontractors to do this work. …CONTINUED
Of course, rarely are any of these homeownership travesties our fault, but someone needs to be accountable. If we have demonstrated anything over the past decade it’s that we, the collective "we," do not fancy taking responsibility for our actions. So, we have a disclosure for every occasion, and every disclosure exists because someone sued somebody, is about to sue somebody, or is simply toying with the idea. "Somebody" is usually the broker. Since I am a broker, it stands to reason that I will have some explaining to do when the Big One hits.
"Buyer and seller are advised that California has experienced earthquakes in the past, and there is always a potential for future earthquakes," reads paragraph four of our Statewide Buyer and Seller Advisory. Of course, this and nearly every other advisory in the disclosure ends with the caveat, "Brokers do not have expertise in this area." Oh, sure. Tell that to our clients.
"Honey, I believe I felt tectonic plate movement. What should I do?"
"Hurry! Call the agent!"
"Buyer and seller are advised that if the property is located adjacent to or near a golf course there is a possibility that golf balls may damage the property or injure persons or pets on it." That’s another one of my favorites. We have to tell our clients that along with their view of the seventh fairway comes the outside chance that Scruffy may get beaned by an incoming ball. But despite our fair warning, it will come as a complete surprise when their al fresco dining experience is destroyed by an amateur chip shot, and I don’t have to tell you who will get the call to whip up a new omelet.
I am thinking about crafting my own addendum to the standard disclosures, just in case we have missed something. Now that I am a broker-owner, I have to think about liability more often. "Property contains a microwave oven. Microwave ovens have been known to make fire, particularly when certain items are placed inside unit including but not limited to metal utensils, curling irons, and the fourth season of "Lost" on DVD (the one with the outtakes). Or, I could warn that "Home may contain a foundation. Walking on said foundation may result in injury to persons or pets, particularly those running with scissors during a seismic event or a pro-am charity tournament. Oh, and Brokers do not have expertise in this area."
On second thought, that would just be silly. Like the call I took from a client enraged because only one of the telephone jacks in his new house worked. "The home has multiple lines. Did the phone company activate the right one?" I asked. At this point, it got really quiet. I sure know how to kill a room.
Fortunately I was able to resolve that one fairly quickly, which left me time to go pay my errors and omissions insurance. But, alas, all post-closing issues aren’t so easily resolved. One of our more common service calls involves the unruly appliance. Sure, buyers are typically given home warranty policies, but these policies are limited.
"The home warranty company said that the dishwasher is not covered due to improper installation," our client tells us. "What? Was it installed upside down? I think I would have noticed," we challenge. "They said the coaxial extension of the flex relief coupling was undersized at the fibulating mechanism terminus." And then, in a hushed tone, they reveal the secret: "The sellers should have disclosed this."
And I am already reaching for my car keys and my vendor list. That’s what an agent for life does, after all, because I "heart" referrals.
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