I torture myself every September by attending a legal forms class.
Once a year a lawyer with the state association of Realtors holds a class to update us on the real estate forms, which are changed every August to reflect the new laws made that take effect every July. They keep passing laws and adding more pages to the contracts.
The class itself isn’t torture, and I usually enjoy it. Understanding the purchase agreement and listing contract are critical parts of my job and I like to know what I am talking about when I go through them, line by line, with my clients. They are legal contracts, and buying real estate is a big deal.
Understanding the contracts and using them correctly can cause conflicts, though, and in some instances I have found myself defending the language in my contracts when challenged by others.
Some agents and brokers have told me that they have always filled out the contracts a certain way, and that is how they should be filled out. Some of the traditions — or business practices, as they are sometimes called — don’t seem to die.
A few weeks ago I wrote a contract featuring a blank space that is supposed to be filled in with an interest rate. Most agents put the word "market" in the blank for market interest rate, but the there is supposed to be a number in that space — and there is a reason for it.
The agreement was countered by the seller because the agent told the seller that the contract was filled out incorrectly and that it should say "market."
I could go on and on but I won’t. Filling out a Minnesota purchase agreement correctly might make me feel good inside but it seems kind of pointless, too — like I am bucking the system.
I feel like a rebel and a troublemaker and I hate having the conversations with my peers about the contracts.
One broker I worked with for a short time was surprised when I turned in a contract with the pages numbered. I was new in the office and he said that no one ever numbers the pages.
Declaring the number of pages in a purchase agreement and numbering each page is critical. Those page numbers prove that the page exists and is part of the agreement.
When I write a contract I picture myself in court being questioned by a lawyer. I picture myself having to defend how I handled the transaction every step of the way. We live in a litigious society, and a Realtor doesn’t have to do anything wrong to get sued.
Continuing education is mandatory for all licensees in Minnesota. A class on agency and one on fair housing are mandated for every agent before a real estate license can be renewed.
The forms class is not required, and I suspect that few states require that type of education. Most agents learn a little about the forms when they take the classes to get a real estate license.
If I ask an agent about the reasons for filling out a contract in a particular way, the answer typically is along the lines of, "Because that is how we do it at our company," or, "That is how my broker wants me to do it," or sometimes they say, "That is how it has always been done."
Once again, I aggravated myself by going to the forms class. And I will do it again next year, and I will recommend it for all agents.
The people we represent expect a lot from us, up to and including the ability to correctly write a real estate contract.
Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.