It Is Now My Turn...

ncrealestateguyJuly 25, 2012

I don't believe I have ever posted a question on here. So, here is my first...

I ran into an acquaintance the other day who told me that she had listed her home with a flat fee agent. No big deal to me, as I usually will not list an acquaintance's home. But then she asked me to call her because she had some questions about the process and the upcoming contract. I just politely told her to give me a call sometime and we could discuss her options.

Here is my question... she made the decision to not pay the price it takes to be represented by a professional Realtor, and yet she thinks I should offer her my time, knowledge and expertise.

I would like to hear what you think the appropriate, professional response should be.

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I think I might "forget" the details of her listing and suggest that she should be discussing these items with her listing agent. When she reminds you that she used a flat fee service, you would have to gently explain to her that your time, knowledge, and expertise are part of the package deal when you list a home and that is how you earn a living. It would not be fair to your paying customers to have more than a cursory discussion with her. And how sorry you are that you can't help her out more.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 4:19PM
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NC - You are right - if you are not her realtor, why should you be available to answer her questions? I would politely tell her that you would prefer to stay out of it.

Now you say she is an "acquaintance" - so if you offend her, how big of a deal is it to you that you create an "enemy"? You know how some people are, even if you are right, they tend to hate you for it. Now maybe you could care less what she thinks of you - but of course you don't want her badmouthing you to other people either.

I know you have the ability to explain yourself, and not make enemies. So maybe this is not a concern at all.

The other way of looking at it - if her attempt at a sale does not work out - the nicer you are to her now, the more likely it will be that she will call you to represent her in the future. and yet another way to look at it - you have taken time out of your life and offered advice for free to total strangers here on GW for a long time - so maybe it's not such a big deal to do the same for a "real person". Or maybe you should direct her here to GW so she can get some answers.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 4:31PM
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The best advice that you could give is that she should contact her attorney. If she doesn't have one, perhaps you could suggest a few good real estate lawyers in the area. After all, she'll need one if and when she finds a buyer.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 4:51PM
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As a professional myself (not real estate) I am sometimes faced with this and how I respond depends on the situation.

1. Generally I would tell the person that my firm prohibits me from giving advice to non-clients (this is a true statement).

2. I may say the above but may suggest that the person talk to the person that they have already hired as that person will know more about the situation.

3. While I will explain that I can't give personal advice to a non-client, if it is a friend, I may talk generally not about her personal situation but the type of thing that might of general educational interest. That is, if I was in your situation, I might talk very briefly and generally about the market in the general area but not about the details as it applies to her house. There are many ways that you can sound helpful and give general information but not get into the specifics of the individual situation and not spend a lot of time while still referring the person back to her own agent (without even needing to point out that she is getting lesser service from that agent). If pressed, I would suggest that you go back to saying that you can't give advice for a non-client or that you don't have the information that would enable you to advise on that person's individual situation. If the person were to then offer to provide the information then you could say that you could only spend the time to analyze the specifics of the situation for your clients as time doesn't permit you to do that for non-clients. In your situation, where she already has an agent, you could even say that you wouldn't feel that it was appropriate to give advise to someone who is already represented by another agent.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 5:50PM
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I definitely would respond with the idea that as a professional it is inappropriate for you to give advise to some one represented by another agent. In my state we are prohibited from contacting sellers listed with other agents. We are permitted to speak to them if they contact us. (or maybe that is an NAR standard) either way, that one rule always made be very cautious about speaking with sellers. It's hard to tell what some one might interpret as soliciting another's client. How would you respond if this was a person at an open house?

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 6:04PM
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"....she had some questions about the process and the upcoming contract."

There are too many variables and alot of legal liability to give specific advice.
Some general comments are ok, however, this comes to mind:
Article 16
REALTORS� shall not engage in any practice or take any action inconsistent with exclusive representation or exclusive brokerage relationship agreements that other REALTORS� have with clients. (Amended 1/04)

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 6:23PM
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Well, I'm the odd man out. I'm not a realtor, but it sounds like she just wants to discuss the process of selling her house - why would you have a problem taking 15 minutes to explain some things to her? I can see if she starts to ask you to plan out a marketing plan for her home, then that's inappropriate, but if she asks how long people take to respond to an offer, that's not the same thing.

Are you saying you've never talked to a friend/acquaintance about a situation relative to their employment without pulling out your checkbook and paying them for their time? That seems hard to believe to me. You're a mechanic? Oh - my car veers to the left, what could that be? You're a lawyer? My ex husband hasn't paid off a credit card that he was supposed to under our divorce decree, what should I do? That's what people do. It comes with the territory of being skilled at something that other people are not.

I guess I feel that I give a little to get a little.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 7:39PM
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I think this happens often to people in all kinds of services: electricians, plumbers, graphic designers, photographers, etc. Good advice above re: possible legal issues. You could also tell her what your consulting fee is or that you devote x number of hours to pro-bono work per month and you're booked until (whenever.) Or if she's nice and says she'd like to buy you lunch and pick your brains for a few minutes, and you're comfortable with this legally and time-wise, maybe it's OK. But I'd be bugged by an acquaintance who wanted something for free.

And with no offense meant to those who majored in comp lit... I remembered this Dilbert strip.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 7:50PM
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I've been on both sides of the table here. My approach, in my business, is to be generous with the advice. It doesn't always lead to immediate income, but it establishes a relationship and increases your credibility, and quite likely lays the groundwork for future income. Even if she never pays you a dime, if you leave her with good vibes, she's likely to recommend you to others.

As a customer, I react much more favorably to people who serve first and worry about the money later. When I started my business, I met with several attorneys and accountants, and the ones I chose to work with were those that sat with me for an hour on the initial (free) visit and answered all the "how to" questions I had (I also felt good rapport, so I didn't just "pick the freebies" but the openness definitely helped with the rapport).

So if it were me, I would help her out. I wouldn't spend a lot of time researching a ton of specifics for her, or review a contract or anything. If she puts something like that in front of you, you can demur by saying, "I wouldn't feel comfortable giving you legal advice when I'm not representing you" and give her a few names of attorneys. But you can still help by saying "here are 4 things I would advise you to have in any contract to sell."

I wouldn't hide behind "company policy" kind of stuff. That would rub me the wrong way.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 7:53PM
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berniak is correct. The rule I was referencing is part of the NAR code of conduct and standards. (BTW-I'm no longer a practicing Realtor) For this reason alone it's inappropriate to offer advice.

So many people complain about Realtor conduct, but one can't have it both ways. It's not company policy. It's part of the agreement one makes when one becomes a Realtor.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 8:04PM
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You mentioned that you usually do not list an aquaintance's home. You can expand on this to her that your longstanding rule is that you don't list aquaintance's homes or provide real estate work for them.

I am sure you could word this better than I did.

Many landlords have a standing rule: dont rent to friends, family, friend's of family and family of friends. Why? In the end, you will be blamed if anything goes wrong even if it has nothing to do with you, even if you gave special preference to the person. You can be given guilt trips, you can be used and you can be treated as a door mat. Long term friendships can be ruined forever. Dont get into the details with her, just give a general blanket statement.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 8:42PM
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Wow Guys! Thanks much for the quick replies. I will sleep on it tonight and decide. I will adress your posts then.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 8:56PM
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I don't see what the problem is with you just talking with her about the selling/buying process since you are in the business. Nothing wrong with just giving general info. I spoke with different people in trades(roofers, electricians, framers, etc.) in reguards to the way things were being done on my house to confirm if things were being done correctly or not. Now if she wants more detailed info or for you to actually start offering your talents for no fee, then I would refer her at that point. I see no harm in just talking!

Just my .02 cents!

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 3:20AM
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I think the first question is acquaintance. If a friend asks me professional advice which I have experience and ability to provide an opinion - I see no challenge if a friend.
If a stranger walks up to me and asks the same question and I should be billing them that is a different story.

Unless you are offended she used a flat rate service - I would think it is an opportunity to sell the expertise/benefit of your field not a freebie.

E.g. If I book my travel online/internet and speak to a Travel AGent who offers advice how I could've done it better/cheaper - the next time I book travel I might give that person a call instead of doing it myself.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 9:17AM
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Pretend she's asking the question on this board. You first offer a qualifier that it's against the realtor's code of ethics to get in between what should really be a conversation between her and the realtor that she's engaged. But, you're the kind sort who gives advice to strangers on the net and in person, so "In general this is how things work in this area of the country, but I don't know specifically how that works with the flat fee agent you've hired. The best information for you would be to ask him that question."

For specific targeted followup questions, once again, you can't get in between her and her own agent as that is unethical and can cause legal problem for you, but since her agent may not offer enough service for her comfort level, you have had clients who have used ABC or CDE real estate lawyers in the past when they needed more assistance with a purchase.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 9:53AM
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I am with weedy...

We KNOW a lot of RE professionals. Real estate professionals are common where we live. We are aquaintenances with many. It seems like a competetive career. (I don't really know. I am just guessing.)

There is a man that was always friendly and offered quick advices without any concerns about money/deal for many years. We never did any business with him during those years.
We have recently bought an investment proprety and sold another with him. We are now looking for another with him. We may also trade our primary residence in the next year or two. We feel that he is OUR realtor now. We are small time RE investors, and we will continue to buy and sell some more in the next decade or so. His 'niceness' plus being a good realtor got him our business.

Obviously, just being nice does not get you the job. You have to be a good realtor as well. If you are a good realtor, you should not feel threatened by a few deals that you lose.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 2:26PM
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I agree with Livewireoak. its your time, feel free to do with it what you wnt. You are willing to help these strangers here for a bit of time, I would think you'd be willing to help an acquaintance, assuming you're not pissed she took the flat fee route.

again, a few questions is different from holding her hand thorugh the process. I also agree she should call you, not you call her. you're not looking to pester her to solve her problems, she should be asking you. if she's expecting you to do the work of her RE agent, then I would politely tell her, that is her RE agents job.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 6:09PM
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Article 16
REALTORS shall not engage in any practice or take any action inconsistent with exclusive representation or exclusive brokerage relationship agreements that other REALTORS have with clients. (Amended 1/04)

This is to protect the Realtor who already has an agreement with a buyer or seller;
if ncreguy were to dish out advice or insight or whatever, the listing broker could file a complaint.

don't know that a flat fee broker would care, but he might.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 8:02PM
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I appreciate all of the differing advice.
I have decided to give her a call tomorrow and ask her what is bothering her. If it is just general questions, I will help her, with no obligations. But if she wants to be hand - held through out the transaction, then I will offer her my consultation for a fee. I would get written permission from her MLS data entry person first though.
Sylvia, even though Article 16 exists, it is also true that a Realtor can speak with a seller who is currently in a listing agreement, as long as the seller has approached the agent. One can even go as far as entering into a listing agreement with that seller, as long as the agreement is post dated to the expiration date of the current agreement.
Anyhow, I enjoy helping people, but since she already has her house listed, it just hit me as kind of strange.
I will update after I speak with them.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 9:45PM
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What ever you decide to do, just be careful. The way some people are if you suggest, offer, advice etc, and either the deal falls thru, or whatever, even a friend or acquaintance could sue. Even getting written permission could be tricky. I do wish you the best.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 10:34PM
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My Broker In Charge warned me of the same thing. And while I do take this potential seriously, I am not one who makes every move worrying about this potential. I would like to think that my common sense practices will keep me out of trouble.
Having said that though, I will tread lightly at first with this scenario.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 7:01AM
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The least offensive method often involves "I do not know enough details of your situation and do not do business with friends I value."

Anyone who does not get the hint is probably not much of a "friend" or thinks they are a VERY good friend that can sway you.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 11:44AM
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There are definitely a lot of sides to this question.

Is it inappropriate for a friend to expect this agent to offer a lot of free help, while she saves $$$ by listing with (another) flat fee agent? Of course.

Could she just want some 'second' opinion info, or general info that a friend would be glad to offer? Maybe.

But there's also the future to consider for OP.

When we had our house listed last year with an agent we'd used before (who did almost nothing for us, other than putting our home in the MLS sites), we had a neighbor who we didn't know well, but who was also an agent and who offered us a LOT of advice and help--even though we were listed with that other agent. He was so knowlegeable, so generous with his help, that when we were ready to relist, he was at the top of our list. Our thought was to list only 6 months per agent, then switch, until the house was sold. After only about 3 weeks with our neighbor representing us, we decided that we would relist with him, because no one could have done more to market our home. Moot point--he sold it after 5 and a half weeks.

Perhaps in this case--since it's a friend--OP wouldn't consider taking her listing in any case, but it doesn't hurt to keep doors open, because not every home sells the first time it's listed, and sellers are likely to then engage an agent they've felt was interested and helpful even though they were listed with someone else.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2012 at 11:56AM
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Hi NC.

She's probably just interested in some general stuff, just like somebody said like when you run into a car mechanic and you hear a ting, you might ask him what that could be. Not unlike what we do on here.

We're in the flooring business and this happens to us all the time, more often lately due to everyone being broke and people are attempting to install their own flooring. Like FSBO's! And as you know, there's more to it than you think. Many times we have to get them out of jams. But we don't mind sharing info. We enjoy helping and we like to talk about the business. In fact, sometimes my husband will even guide them step-by-step if he has time. Sometimes we get a job out of it when they want another room done or pass our name along. But that's not why we do it. It doesn't hurt anything. Not giving them information is not going to force them to use us. Why not be helpful?

Listen to this. We lost our power for a week a few weeks ago. A guy in town is an electrician. We don't know him. He's an acquaintance. We needed water for the horses. He ran over and got our generator rigged up to the well so I could get the water. He was here about an hour and he was BUSY because everyone was having power problems. And get this--he didn't charge us! I will never forget that. I will pay it forward. And I will also use this guy for all our electrical work plus recommend him. But I know that's not why he did it. He was just nice. I say, be nice.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2012 at 12:42AM
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I liked this suggestion:

"The best advice that you could give is that she should contact her attorney. If she doesn't have one, perhaps you could suggest a few good real estate lawyers in the area. After all, she'll need one if and when she finds a buyer."

    Bookmark   July 29, 2012 at 9:15AM
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Wife is an attorney.

Whatever is asked is "Not my area, you should call your attorney."

    Bookmark   July 30, 2012 at 10:36AM
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