Monday, October 13, 2014

Reputation Matters: A Tale from the Trenches

by Osman Parvez

Let me tell you about this year's most ridiculous closing.  Once again, it's time for a tale from the trenches. 

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Once upon a time (i.e., a few months ago), my clients bought a house in Boulder.   George and Michelle were super excited, and not just for the Dizzy's donuts I brought to the closing table.   They're a young couple and recently engaged.  This would be their first home together. 

Now - it's customary for buyers to walk-through a property before closing.   When we did so, we noticed curtains were missing from the living room windows.   Not a big deal, however per the standard Colorado Real Estate Commission approved contract, curtains are included in the purchase of a home unless specifically excluded.    

Here's the verbiage from the current contract: 



Pretty cut and dry, right?   Guess again. 

I sent the listing agent several messages (let's call him Michael) asking him to contact me so we could discuss a solution.   No response.  He ignored my emails and phone call.   Closing was scheduled for the following day.

The following morning, I sent Michael one last email.  I asked that he please contact the seller and see that the curtains were brought to our scheduled closing. 

A few hours later, we were the first ones to arrive at the title company.   Michael walked in shortly after.  Everyone exchanged typical pleasantries.  I then asked him about the curtains.   

To my utter surprise, he claimed that the contract specifies curtain rods but not the curtains.   He proceeded to pull out the contract and with a smug grin, handed it to me. 

I read §2.5.2 out loud.   "Personal Property. If on the Property, whether attached or not, on the date of this Contract, the following items are included unless excluded under Exclusions (§ 2.6): storm windows, storm doors, window and porch shades, awnings, blinds, screens, window coverings, curtain rods, drapery rods, fireplace inserts, fireplace screens, fireplace grates, heating stoves, storage sheds, and all keys.  (emphasis mine)

I asked what he thought window coverings meant.    Unbelievably, Michael claimed window coverings didn't include curtains or drapes and in this case the curtains were decorative and not functional.   Yes, seriously. 

Here's a picture of the window coverings in question: 
Remember, we're at the closing table.   Those damn donuts are just sitting there, begging me to eat them.  We're all looking at each other. 

Of course, George and Michelle aren't going to walk away because of missing curtains but this is ridiculous.   I asked Michael what he thought the real estate commission would say.    Unbelievably, he claimed he'd actually been in arbitration for this very issue and the real estate commission had agreed that while curtain rods are included, decorative curtains are not.  

You've got to be kidding me, I thought.   Not about arbitration, I could see how Michael is just the sort of agent who lands himself in arbitration over and over again.    I'm shocked we're about to have a negotiation at the closing table over curtains worth a few hundred dollars, tops.     

Luckily, the seller walked in at that very tense moment.   In her hands - a bag containing the missing curtains.  She had simply removed them for washing and hadn't had time to re-install them before closing.  


All included?
So why the F was Michael creating a stink at the closing table?   It was clearly not at the direction of his client.   He probably didn't even contact her to ask about the missing curtains.  She obviously understood they go with the house. The only thing that I could think of was his ego.   

While we were puzzling over this, the title clerk walked in and started processing the paperwork - a welcome distraction.   We all dived into the signature process but I couldn't shake the absurdity of it all.

Near the end of the closing, I asked the seller if it would be OK if the buyers had her phone number - just in case they had any questions about the property.  She readily agreed.   For me, this is a normal part of closing.  I always encourage buyer and seller to have each other's contact information because questions sometimes arise after closing (about how things work, like the dishwasher, for example.) 

The seller started to give me her phone number but before she could finish, Michael interrupted.   With a smarmy look on his face, he said, "Why don't you just call me if you have any questions and I'll get the answers for you."   

I looked at the seller.   She looked confused and maybe even a little embarrassed. 

"Do you really want to be in the middle of simple questions about the house after closing?"   

He paused.  "Yes." 

I laughed and shook my head.   "OK, I guess." 

Conclusions
New agents.   Sit down with Uncle Osman and get out your notepad: 

Reputation matters.  If you want to be successful, safeguard your reputation. You will find yourself doing deals with the same agents over and again. Remember, top agents do the majority of deals in Boulder.  Want to represent your clients well?  Work on building trust.  

Think about it.  In a competitive offer scenario, which offer would you trust?    The straight shooter or the guy who wants to argue over the legal definition of window coverings?    Who do you want to do business with again?

Michael came across like a slime ball and his shiny suit wasn't helping.  Going forward, I will be reluctant to do business with him.   Of course, I will engage again if necessary, but next time I'll be sure to add the wikipedia reference for window coverings to any contracts submitted to his office which by definition includes decorative coverings. 

THE FOUR-WAY TEST
A few years ago, I had a seller, unprompted, handed over a $400 check to my buyers at the closing table.  He said that the dishwasher had started making noise during the last few days and he thought it was on its last legs. 

At Rotary, we have something called The Four-Way Test.  It's a simple ethical guide for Rotarians to use for personal and professional relationships.  I'm citing it here because I think it's a good reminder for how to behave.   It's also not coincidental that both that seller and I are Rotarians. 

The Four-Way Test: 

Of the things we think, say or do

Is it the TRUTH?
Is it FAIR to all concerned?
Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

If you're ever confused about how to behave, start with Rotary's four-way test. 

p.s. You can argue anything (in a court of law or elsewhere).  You can claim curtains are art or even priceless antiquities.   You can argue anything you want, but common sense would dictate the curtains in the picture above are window coverings hung on mounts designed to obscure light and visibility through glass windows.   Just look at the picture.     Even if there is a middle ground, is your reputation worth a few hundred bucks?

image:  Aaron Tang

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