Last November, Miami agent Aaron Smith with The Keyes Company got a call from the New York Police Department on a Saturday morning. His client, the buyer of a luxury apartment in downtown Miami, had been found dead of a heart attack in his New York hotel room.

  • A deal in the worst circumstances may be resuscitated with a caring and determined approach.

Last November, Miami agent Aaron Smith with The Keyes Company got a call from the New York Police Department on a Saturday morning.

Aaron Smith

His client, the buyer of a luxury apartment in downtown Miami, had been found dead of a heart attack in his New York hotel room.

The client’s call to Smith was the last one the 46-year-old CEO businessman made, so it was the first number the police tried. The department found out who Smith was and asked for the number of the deceased’s wife.

Smith, who’s worked in real estate for two years on his mother-in-law’s real estate team, The Flor Blanchett Group, knew that by Florida law this news nullified the $790,000 deal, the contract terminated in the event of sudden death.

What could have been the end of a business road for Smith turned out to be just the beginning, as the fairly new agent navigated a family’s unimaginable circumstances with professionalism, grace and determination to make their dream home wishes come true.

His approach shows that always putting clients first and maintaining a long-term vision can be a guiding light when the unexpected occurs.

‘How can I help?’

Smith’s first thought was to see if the client’s wife needed any support.

He sent a text to her a few minutes after the call from the police, offering pick her and her six-year-old daughter up and bring them back to his home. (Smith requested that the identities of the clients and their family remain anonymous.)

Although he had bonded with the client’s wife over fashion during a month of house hunting — Smith worked in high-end fashion before real estate — he didn’t know if she would take him up on his offer.

But the widow immediately called him back.

“By 11:30 [a.m.] she was with me,” Smith said.

Client and agent: Both navigating the unfamiliar

The buyer couple had been new to Miami — the husband, an American, and the Korean-born wife’s family based in Korea — and him traveling frequently to New York and Philadelphia for business.

The couple lived in different parts of the U.S. throughout their marriage and was referred to Smith by John Solaegui from Paragon Real Estate in San Francisco, where they had lived before.

They had no support structure in South Florida when tragedy struck.

Smith had to find an answer to the new widow’s question: “Is this real?”

They spent that first day dealing with all the logistics, the priority being to keep the little girl occupied while calls were made.

Smith’s husband, Robert, also an agent on the real estate team, baked cookies for the daughter who enjoyed playing with their cat.

When disaster strikes, do not push for a decision

Smith told his client that the deal on the downtown Miami condo was void with the death of her husband and encouraged her not to rush any decision about what to do next.

He did not want to put any pressure on her.

His attitude was: “I’m in no way doing this because I care about the deal because the deal’s dead.”

But right away, the wife told Smith she wanted to restart the purchase, this time in her name.

The property was a two-bedroom, 2,500 square-foot condo on the 55th floor of a luxury high rise building that the couple had fallen in love with.

Although the wife’s family, who came over, tried to persuade her to return to Korea, she remained convinced that she wanted to live in Miami and in that apartment.

By Tuesday, she’d told him to write up an offer, this time all-cash.

In these circumstances, a deal can unravel in a quagmire of finances. Fortunately, in this case, money was not a problem.

The listing agent, Coldwell Banker’s Jon Mann, said Smith was amazed that she wanted to act so quickly but was very accommodating.

Smith told Mann, “‘We are not changing the numbers; it is still $790,000. We just want to make sure we secure this home.’”

A new contract was drawn up and the deal went through on December 1, as planned.

“She just wanted to call something her own home in the midst of all the uncertainty,” Smith said.

Real estate is life happening

Flor Blanchett, who persuaded Smith to try real estate a couple of years ago, was impressed with his abilities in this difficult circumstance. Smith’s unassuming style that always worked well in top luxury retail helped him with the unexpected.

Blanchett herself had been through a number of life experiences with clients — divorce and job loss, for instance — but never someone dying.

“You hear that real estate is about life happening, but I’ve never been in situation like this with such a young, successful family,” she said.

“My advice was and always is, put your Realtor hat aside during a time like this and let’s just be human and be a family,” said the mother and grandmother. “We took it upon ourselves to be a family for her — and I think she was truly appreciative.”

On move-in day, the client sent Mike Pappas, president of The Keyes Company, a thank-you letter:

As I have bought and sold property before, I have experienced other Realtors, but Aaron stands out as an exceptional Realtor and an exceptionally kind-hearted individual from the way he helped me and my family get through this extremely difficult time.

Today was our first day at our new home, and being in this new beautiful home, I somehow feel hopeful that my daughter and I can continue to move forward with our lives. I owe a great deal to Aaron both professionally and personally.

As a bonus, Smith gained some new events to add to his calendar: the daughter’s kindergarten graduation and Christmas play — along with a newfound friendship with Mann that’s led to several deals closed.

This transaction was submitted to Leading Real Estate Companies of the World’s annual awards.

Email Gill South.

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