You’d never know it to meet me today but before reaching the age of five I didn’t speak a word. That was in the days before autism spectrum disorder had been diagnosed and certainly there was no treatment available for kids like me who were non-social, withdrawn and didn’t verbalize.
But from what my mother tells me, I recovered from whatever that condition was completely and miraculously on the final day of a novena she attended at St. Donato’s Roman Catholic Church in West Philadelphia. After hearing this story, I never questioned reports of miracles, because I haven’t shut up since.
While I was able to speak, I still had to challenge myself to become more socially interactive in school. I debated and wrote for the school newspaper. Once out of college, my first job was as a newspaper reporter. After that, I became a public relations practitioner. But only when I ventured into real estate did I find myself talking all the time. And from what industry pundits say, that’s a good thing.
At a real estate convention I attended last week, one of the keynote speakers, Terry Watson, identified the chief “irk” that sellers and buyers have with realtors–and it’s all about communications. Specifically, Watson said that the most common real estate situation that negatively impacts clients is inadequate disclosure. He went on to paint scenarios which might convince potential home buyers and sellers to have frequent heart to hearts with their realtors to know as much as they can about the whole process, particularly what is likely to happen next.
In defense of myself and my fellow real estate practitioners, I would say that out of self preservation we’re way ahead of the game. I’ve never heard any group of people who talk as much as realtors do in their mission to inform their clients. Whenever I’m in my office, there is a cacophony of voices on the phone, all explaining to clients what is happening and what to expect. We sometimes have to ask each other to quiet down so that we can hear ourselves think.
But the real estate purchase or sale process is so complex and so all-encompassing a discipline that the totally unexpected or unknown can happen at any time. And it’s the realtor who can get blamed for lack of disclosure on the matter.
There are the standard disclosures which sellers and realtors sign when taking a listing: the disclosure of agency that identifies the relationship of the realtor to the seller; a lead disclosure if the house was built before 1978; and the affiliated business disclosure, so that sellers can be aware of the other businesses which the realtor’s company owns.
The big disclosure that most buyers and sellers relate to is the property condition disclosure in which the seller identifies all the known defects of a house to its buyer. While it is required in many states, such as California where the code is particularly stringent, in New York the seller may choose not to issue such a disclosure, but rather pay $500 at closing to the buyer. The overwhelming majority of sellers choose this option, rather than risk being liable for serious house defects.
Above and beyond these expected disclosures are those that require a simple explanation before the fact, rather than after. Nobody likes surprises or hearing, “oh, by the way,” when it may be too late to be informed. Watson suggests that this is best accomplished by the realtor preparing a list of frequently asked questions, such as: Do I need a lawyer or who pays the commission?
Watson also recommended that realtors present a list of what sellers or buyers can expect along the way. These may include realtors who make appointments to show your home will sometimes be late or not show up; know that the HGTV shows are scripted; expect that the closing date will be delayed; and expect that you won’t know until the last moment how much money you must bring to the closing.
The more realtors paint a picture of what can happen in the future, accompanied by stories of personal experience, the better sellers and buyers will feel empowered to make informed decisions. That kind of clear and open communication is what helps avoid problems in the form of misunderstanding, missteps and/or unlawful acts.
Recently I was in Philadelphia and happened to pass the church where my mother told me I was miraculously granted my ability to speak. I looked at the granite steps leading to the impressive church doors and could recall walking them holding my mother’s hand all those years ago. It brought a lump to my throat, nudging alongside my voice box that has had a lot of practice in recent years as a realtor who blabs on and on to clients about what’s going on.
Bill Primavera is a Residential and Commercial Realtor® associated with Coldwell Banker, as well as a publicist and journalist who writes regularly as The Home Guru. For questions about home maintenance or to engage him to help you buy or sell a home, he can be emailed at Bill@TheHomeGuru.com or called directly at 914-522-2076.