Austin Realtors: To Whom Are You Addressing That E-mail?

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on September 2, 2012 · 3 comments

As a general rule, I don’t forward emails from other agents to my clients. Instead, I filter the communication and distill it into what my client needs to know. I rephrase, reframe, boil down and summarize. This benefits my clients by keeping them focused on the relevant information and protecting them from irrelevant, irrational and emotional dialogs that can derail and harm the progress of a real estate transaction.

Not every Austin Realtor follows this approach. In fact, so many forward emails directly to clients that, when composing an email, I automatically assume the other agent’s client will read it unfiltered, as a forwarded message. Thus, when writing emails to other agents, I do so assuming that the agent’s client will read it also. This benefits my clients by allowing me to state the case directly to the other party in a way I hope will seem reasonable, unemotional and persuasive.

My refusal to forward emails to and from my own client so infuriated another agent once, that she accused me of “not presenting” a proposed Amendment. This was a typical listing, under contract after multiple offers. Then came the post-inspection proposed Amendment from the buyer’s agent, which said in the email.

Attached please find the amendment for the above transaction.  We have asked for additional closing costs in lieu of repairs as we know your seller is out of state.  I have also attached the inspection for your seller to review.  There are many delayed maintenance concerns that need attention, for example:  trees have not been cared for and have caused damage to the roof, missing smoke detectors, front door lock is broken, many areas of wood rot, air conditioner needs servicing and the sprinkler system needs repair.

Please feel free to call me in the morning if you have any questions otherwise we look forward to moving to the next step.

I didn’t look at the inspection report, nor did I forward the email or inspection report to my seller, or even tell him what the agent said.

What I took from the above was “buyer wants $2,500″, because that’s what the proposed Amendment would have accomplished. The reasons and rationale did not matter to me, or my seller, at this point. But I did personally find the inspection repairs amount to be ridiculously high and unreasonable. (see Austin Repair Negotiations – What is Reasonable?)

I sent the following to the seller:

The Buyers are asking for an additional $2,500 in closing costs to offset what they perceive as repair issues resulting from their inspection. I haven’t looked at the inspection. You guys have a good sense of the condition of your house.

Every buyer asks for something following inspection, so don’t get too upset about it or take it personally. Best thing to do is to just decide on an amount to counter with that you can live with.

I had helped the sellers purchase this home a few years earlier, and it produced a clean inspection report at that time, and had been well cared for and upgraded since then. The items mentioned in the agent’s email were small potatoes, no major mechanical issues or problems. Just normal, expected, lightweight stuff, overstated at that. After seller and I discussed by phone, seller decided to offer $500 as a good faith response, even though he felt there was no justification even for that amount.

To the agent I sent the following:

Sellers are willing to increase para 12(a)1b by an additional $500.

The home is in better than average condition for a home that age in that area. Sellers spent a lot upgrading the kitchen counters with the granite and feel that the home is a great value at the contract price.

Hopefully your buyers will agree. Send back an amendment with a $500 increase in 12(a)1b and I’ll get it signed off today.

Agent responded with outrage and became frustrated.

She resubmitted the exact same Amendment with no changes to the $2,500. Seller responded with the exact same $500. No progress made on the second round. Meanwhile, other agent, instead of focusing on working toward a number that both sides could live with, tried to dictate and control how the communication would be handled, how the seller would respond to the Amendment, and even demanded to deal with Sylvia instead of me.

This is just a few excerpts from her email rant to me and Sylvia:

Since Sylvia is the listing agent I would like to communicate directly with her during negotiations to ensure timely and accurate responses….

I would like us to come to a win-win here at the amendment stage and look forward to your response.  If we can’t come to agreement by early afternoon we will have to extend the option period to the end of the week thus allowing my clients more time to gain additional bids to see if the home is still of the same value to them….

I am also requesting the buyers hear directly (via email-forwarded by you) from your seller as to the reasons why they are only agreeing to $500.00 or have your sellers counter and sign the proposed amendment to show proof of delivery and their counter of $500.  I understand your clients feel they spent money in upgrades however that isn’t a reason to delay much needed household maintenance that could potentially cost more than the upgrades themselves.

And there was a lot more, none of it helpful toward getting the buyer and seller closer on a number they could both live with. To me, it was an incompetent agent unable to manage the process on her end, and unable to help her buyers bring the right set of expectations to the inspection process.

And I would consider myself incompetent if I forwarded such rantings from a hysterical agent to my seller.

The only thing my seller ever knew was that we were still working toward a number. But we don’t let sellers send formal written counter-offer Amendments (unless a simple admin item), nor do we get sucked into tit for tat arguing about the contents of an inspection report. If it’s a bad roof or something like a major mechanical failure, sure, we talk about that specific item. But not small garden variety stuff that doesn’t change the value of a home.

As I told the agent via email, in summarizing and distilling where we were in negotiation:

Buyer requested $2,500 and Seller responded with $500. Seller is not going to agree to repairs or extend the option period, so it’s best to focus on finding a number both buyer/seller can live with. Seller can live with $500. If buyer wants to counter with a different number, I’ll present it.

Agent then became accusatory:

Just to clarify your sellers position:   your seller will not counter back to us in writing?  We must counter back to him?  Is that correct?  Do you have this in writing from the seller so I can share this with my buyers so they will be assured their original amendment was presented to your clients?  A forwarded email from your seller would suffice and in the meantime I will prepare a counter amendment as you have requested.   Please help me settle my buyers concerns.

Uh, seriously? Good grief. Just let your buyers know that the seller isn’t going to give back $2,500 but is willing to give $500. Then find out what your buyer wants to do next and send it over.

Buyer’s eventually came back with a lower number, seller came up a bit, buyer came back again, seller budged again and they settled on a number they could all live with it. The Amendment was complete.

Seller never saw the inspection, nor did I. Seller was never exposed to the rantings and irrational diatribes of the other agent. None of his emails to me were forwarded to the other agent (and thus her buyers). On our side of the deal, we stayed focused on a number only. Just a number. We’d received multiple offers and the seller was willing to let the buyer walk away if they insisted on a $2,500 repair credit. Seller didn’t owe further explanation or anything else to the buyer at all.

None of the surrounding drama would have benefited the transaction or helped my seller. I do suspect my emails to the agent were forwarded to the buyers though, which is why I kept them short, factual and simple.

At the conclusion of the Amendment process, the other agent offered the following:

 … I have never had this much trouble in my life getting an amendment signed. ….

I offered the following response to her:

… As to your difficulties with this Amendment process, I don’t understand what specifically you think a listing agent representing a seller should do differently, but just so you’ll know where we’re coming from:

1) We never let a seller sign anything until the buyer is completely done. (with some minor exceptions)

2) We don’t negotiate repairs on a final amendment, we negotiate dollar amounts only. (with some rare exceptions)

You perhaps do things differently for your sellers, and that’s fine. But you seemed to be trying to bully us and our seller into doing things your way. Maybe that works for you most of the time and you’re frustrated that we wouldn’t grant your requests for forwarded emails, etc.

I’m still scratching my head about that. You actually think I should share my private agent/client communication? Or, you think a seller has an obligation to provide written narratives and explanations in response to requests for money? If so, we’ll just have to agree to disagree, because I do not believe a seller has any such duty or requirement.

I never received a response.

The point of hanging all this dirty laundry out here is so that, as a Realtor, you might come to agree with me that it’s not in your client’s best interest for them to be exposed to unfiltered email communication, or even full blown recounting of phone conversations. Stick to the basics. The facts and negotiation points.

I’ve had agents say things like “the seller was very offended by your buyer’s request”, or “I’m just trying to calm the buyer down after that response”, etc. None of this is appropriate or helpful. I never tip off the emotions of my clients (and,  yes, I have emotional clients, like everyone else) because it doesn’t matter and doesn’t help the deal.

Even worse, is when an Austin Realtor allows his or her personal emotions to enter into a deal. “I’ll present this, but frankly, I’m a bit insulted and I’m sure the seller will be also”.

Really? Then you suck as a Realtor because it’s not your place to feel personally insulted. Just present the offer. If you allow your personal emotions to infect a deal, you are a failure as a Realtor. Your professional guidance, experience and knowledge is what your client needs, not your emotional leakage.

And if you are a buyer or seller, you might want to consider what you say in emails to your agent, especially if, unbeknownst to you, the agent is forwarding your emails directly to other agents who then forward to their clients.

Conclusion

I believe Agent-Client communication is personal, between client and agent. It’s ok to say things like:

“seller thinks the price is fair and already takes into consideration the needed repairs”.

Or “buyer really likes the house, but when we add in the cost of a new roof, new HVAC and water heater, they no longer think it’s a good value and are going to terminate and move on if we can’t work something out. We need some help on those costs”.

Or, “we really appreciate the offer, but it’s well below what the seller is willing to consider at this point, but tell the buyer thanks, that we really do appreciate it and would welcome a new offer closer to the list price”.

Communicating a viewpoint, or basis for a request or stance is perfectly fine. But sending entire emails to do so is, in my opinion, lazy, stupid, ineffective and unprofessional. Don’t be that agent. Austin Realtors need to be better than the excerpts I shared above. Many are not. Be the one who is. Your client will be better served,  and your transactions will be less likely to come unraveled because of something your client heard about or read that they never should have.

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