(Un-)Common Courtesy

Posted on November 29, 2012 by AAR

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From MLS Updates to Lockbox Etiquette, Courtesy Can Help You Make It to the Closing Table

Put a few real estate agents together in a room, and they’ll tell war stories that will make you alternately laugh and cry. A recurring theme tends to emerge: In the last few years, the agents say, common courtesy has gone out the window.

At the end of the day, we all want to close deals and make our clients happy. But it’s the middle of the day where things get hairy. Herewith, a few common problems and suggestions that just might help you make it to the closing table.

Communication Breakdowns | Lack of Transparency | MLS Issues | Lockbox Etiquette | Bad Behavior

WHEN & HOW TO ESCALATE AN ISSUE

You’ve done your best. You’ve been patient. You’ve given the other agent the benefit of the doubt and a few extra chances. Now it’s time to get serious.

Brokers. “Anytime there’s a situation that has escalated to more than one phone call, your broker probably needs to be aware of it,” says Bergamini. “Your broker is there to protect your license, their license and your client. The sooner they get wind of it the better.” Occassionally, a broker-to-broker call can clear up an issue quite effectively.

MLS. Some situations can be handled agent-to-agent, but egregious problems should definitely be reported. Most MLSs make it easy to report violations anonymously. For something like unauthorized lockbox access, it’s a good idea to provide as much detail as possible: lockbox number, MLS number, a statement from the seller and a police report, if appropriate.

Ethics. If you are dealing with an agent or broker who is a REALTOR® (that is, a member of a REALTOR® association), they are bound by NAR’s Code of Ethics. If you feel that an article of the code has been willfully violated, consider mediation or an ethics complaint. Thedisputes section of AAR’s website covers the processes involved. Or you can give AAR’s professional standards department a call at 602-248-7787.

Department of Real Estate.ADRE responds to consumer investigation requests about licensees who may have violated real estate law or the Commissioner’s Rules. Learn more about theInvestigations Division.

“Some practices just need to be stopped, but unless they are reported, the Department of Real Estate and AAR can’t do anything about them,” advises Judy Osmanski with Ken Meade Realty, Inc. in Sun City. “Step up to the plate and report a violation.”

Communication Breakdowns

- Listing agent’s voicemail is full.                
- Buyer agent calls incessantly.

With today’s low inventories, listing agents are bombarded with calls, texts and emails from desperate buyer agents trying to get a foot in the door for their clients. It’s easy to see why both sides end up frustrated. Everyone involved needs to remember that there are real people on the other end of the communication.

“I just ran into an old favorite: ‘Call lister to arrange showing. Do not email, must call,’” reports Dane Briggs, ABR, GRI with Firebird Realty in Phoenix. “So when you call, it goes straight to voicemail, and the mailbox is full so you can’t leave a message.”

Listing agents who are drowning in incoming messages might consider hiring an assistant or working with an answering service. “If you can’t control that portion of your business, hire staff and arm them with the right information,” suggestsBrad Bergamini, GRI with Realty Executives Northern Arizona in Prescott. If you can’t justify the expense, consider other ways to manage the influx. “I have Google Voice for my voicemail, which emails me a transcription of the voicemail, so I read all my messages and have no limit on my mailbox,” explains Briggs.

On the buyer’s side, persistent stalking of the listing agent could net you a call-back—or it could turn the agent against you. Prepare your buyers early for the realities of today’s market. No response is common, and it often just means no. Decide what you consider a reasonable amount of “touches” and stop there. And be sure to review the MLS before you reach out.

While Bergamini is generally a listing agent, he does work with the occasional buyer and is in constant contact with his buyer agents. This helps him remember to see the transaction from their side as well. “If you can put yourself into the seller’s (or buyer’s) shoes, you will see more deals closed and have happier clients,” he says.

Bottom Line: Remember the Golden Rule. Treat others as you want to be treated.

Lack of Transparency

- Listing agent doesn’t acknowledge offers.
- Buyer agent doesn’t disclose that buyer hasn’t seen the property.

If you’re listing well-priced homes in today’s market, you are likely to encounter multiple offers—and frustrated buyer agents. Knowing this, you might choose to set some ground rules right away. For example, provide specific time periods when the home will be available for showings and announce a deadline for the first review of offers. This way, the other side knows whether they still have a chance.

Draft a simple acknowledgement that you can copy and paste in reply to all offers received. “Even if it’s a simple ‘Thank you for the offer, I’ll let you know as soon as I hear from the bank’ or ‘My seller is reviewing all offers this weekend, and I’ll let you know by Sunday,’” says Leah Wolfe-Kraemer, GRI of Welcome Home Realty in Avondale. “Your clients aren’t the only ones who deserve reasonable service and common courtesy.”

If buyer agents expect listing agents to be transparent about the process, they should consider returning the favor. “If your client put offers in on ten short sales and just closed one, don’t leave us hanging out there thinking the buyer is still around while we are negotiating their offer,” suggests Briggs.

If you’re making an offer on a home your client has not yet seen, is it because you’ve counseled your buyer that they can always bow out during the inspection period? Or is it because you’re working with an investor that trusts you to preview the home for them? Let the listing agent know so that they can appropriately evaluate your offer.

Of course, an agent’s first duty is to their client, and not everything can or should be disclosed. “Don’t make assumptions,” says Cynthia Leggitt with HomeSmart in Gilbert. “There may be a back-story you know nothing about. So be courteous to your fellow agents in a spirit of cooperation.”

Bottom Line: Be as transparent about the process as possible.

MLS Issues

- Listing agent doesn’t update MLS status.
- Buyer agent ignores showing instructions.

 “‎Update the MLS religiously,” pleads Gerri Bara with West USA Realty in Mesa. “Have some pity on the people who read and rely on the information contained in your listings!” No buyer agent wants to make an offer on a home that should have been marked pending ten days ago.

Similarly, no listing agent wants to answer call after call requesting information that is clearly outlined in the agent notes. “Consult the listing before you call,” says Bergamini. “Half the time buyer agents call with questions that show they haven’t even looked at the listing.”

If you see something that doesn’t seem right, don’t jump to the conclusion that the other agent is lazy or has improper motives. It could be an honest mistake or a newly licensed agent still figuring out the rules. “When someone has a property listed as active and it shouldn’t be, email them a gentle reminder,” suggests Bergamini. C. Dale Hillard, designated broker at West USA Realty in Phoenix and the Rules Committee Chair at ARMLS, agrees. “If it’s a simple thing you spotted, call the agent and give them a chance to correct it,” he says. “For flagrant violations, I encourage you to push the button every time.”

“I have spoken to listing agents, and when I question them about it, they tell me they leave it active to try and secure back-ups,” says Steve Bachman with HomeSmart in Scottsdale. “[That’s an] immediate report.”

Bottom Line: Assume the best, but report the worst.

Lockbox Etiquette

- Listing agent uses combo lockbox, and no one bothers to scramble the code.
- Buyer agent hands plano to client with agent-only information.   

Listing agents must do all they can to protect the seller and the property. The last thing you want is to find that someone used a lockbox to enter a home and steal the appliances. This means using the best lockbox you can afford and being cautious about codes. “I’ve walked up to far too many combo boxes with the combo staring back at me,” reports Paul Slaybaugh with Realty Executives in Scottsdale. “Then there are the ubiquitous codes that are used for every listing that we all know by heart.”

“If an agent can’t afford $80 for a lockbox, perhaps they should not take the listing,” says Tonia Vickery, CRS with RE/MAX Renaissance Realty in Peoria. “Listing homes is not free, which is why we want good compensation when it closes.” She recommends that listing agents investigate used boxes. “When I picked up in listings years back, I started asking agents who were getting out of the business and got tons of used ones for at least 50% off,” she reports.

Buyer agents also have a role to play in safeguarding the home—and in avoiding liability. First, a lockbox on a home is not an invitation to enter. Even if a listing is pending or vacant, you must have the listing agent’s permission to enter. Unauthorized lockbox access could earn you a hefty fine from your MLS or local association. And if you checked the listing a week ago, check it again before you arrive, advises Mary Roberts, GRI with Keller Williams Arizona Living in Lake Havasu City. “A house may have been vacant last week and now have tenants in there.”

Be aware of who might be watching when you enter codes on a combo box and scramble it right away. Never hand clients information that is for agents’ eyes only, such as a plano with codes. Have a plan for what to do if another agent arrives while you are showing a home. “I either ask them to wait or put the black box back in, so they have to enter their code,” reports Briggs. “If the home has a combo lockbox, I ask the buyer agent to show me the MLS printout, so I can confirm they are an agent.”

While in the house, keep tabs on your buyers. Agents have had buyers do crazy things in other people’s homes, from letting their kids jump on beds to stealing medicine from the bathroom to unlocking a window for an unlawful re-entry later. Before you leave, double-check that all doors and windows are locked. (And we don’t need to tell you not to steal keys out of lockboxes to prevent other buyers from seeing it, right?)

Bottom Line: Protect the consumer.

Bad Behavior

- The cooperating agent calls you or your client names.
- You tell your client that the other agent’s incompetence is to blame for issues arising.

Article 15 of the Code of Ethics states, “REALTORS® shall not knowingly or recklessly make false or misleading statements about other real estate professionals, their businesses or their business practices.” Bergamini takes this to heart in his interactions with clients: “If my sellers ask me what I know about the other agent, I tell them that I know he/she’s a good agent and will do the best for their client. That’s all they need to know.”

When things go badly, it’s easy to blame the other side, to tell your client that the other agent is an amateur or that the seller is delusional. Sometimes agents do this to minimize their own missteps. Sometimes they may say those things because they’re true. Either way, it’s a disservice to the transaction. “It’s our responsibility not to let clients know if we have an issue with someone,” says Bergamini. “They should end the deal feeling like, ‘Wow! What an easy process.’”

“There needs to be common decency with regard to one’s chosen language about other agents/brokers and parties to a transaction,” reports Patrick Brennan with @Home Properties and Management in Peoria. “I recently had to ask that a listing agent not call my client names.” Persistent disrespectful behavior should be reported to the agent’s broker.

It’s not only unethical to bad-mouth another agent. It can also be bad for business. “You don’t know if the biggest deal in your life will be with someone you just said something nasty about on Facebook,” says Bergamini.

Candice Hudson with Sonoran Fine Properties in Scottsdale has a long memory for agents who behave badly. “I also remember all the good ones, the true professionals who know that every market turns at some point,” she notes.

Bottom Line: Stay positive.

WHEN & HOW TO ESCALATE AN ISSUE

You’ve done your best. You’ve been patient. You’ve given the other agent the benefit of the doubt and a few extra chances. Now it’s time to get serious.

Brokers. “Anytime there’s a situation that has escalated to more than one phone call, your broker probably needs to be aware of it,” says Bergamini. “Your broker is there to protect your license, their license and your client. The sooner they get wind of it the better.” Occassionally, a broker-to-broker call can clear up an issue quite effectively.

MLS. Some situations can be handled agent-to-agent, but egregious problems should definitely be reported. Most MLSs make it easy to report violations anonymously. For something like unauthorized lockbox access, it’s a good idea to provide as much detail as possible: lockbox number, MLS number, a statement from the seller and a police report, if appropriate.

Ethics. If you are dealing with an agent or broker who is a REALTOR® (that is, a member of a REALTOR® association), they are bound by NAR’s Code of Ethics. If you feel that an article of the code has been willfully violated, consider mediation or an ethics complaint. Thedisputes section of AAR’s website covers the processes involved. Or you can give AAR’s professional standards department a call at 602-248-7787.

Department of Real Estate.ADRE responds to consumer investigation requests about licensees who may have violated real estate law or the Commissioner’s Rules. Learn more about theInvestigations Division.

“Some practices just need to be stopped, but unless they are reported, the Department of Real Estate and AAR can’t do anything about them,” advises Judy Osmanski with Ken Meade Realty, Inc. in Sun City. “Step up to the plate and report a violation.”

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