I Want to Fire My Agent

Occassionally I’ll get a phone call or email from a seller that is not happy with the real estate agent currently representing them. They ask if I can help them because they want to fire their agent. This is very touchy ground because real estate agents are not allowed to interfere with the relationships between other agents and their clients.

The advice I always give is this: if you are not happy with your current agent, have a conversation with them about why you are not happy. See if you can get them to change their attitude, marketing plan, whatever it is about the situation that is not working for you. The agent might not even know you’re displeased. If you don’t see a noticeable change after your discussion, contact their broker and express your concerns. They may try to assign you to a different agent in the office. In some cases, they may let you terminate your contract. It all depends on the situation.

Real estate is just like any other business. There are excellent performers, average performers, and low level performers. When you sign a contract with a real estate agency and a specific agent, you have the right to expect a certain level of service. Voicing your concerns to your agent and their broker is the first step in getting the issue resolved.

Great Idea! Let's Commit Mortgage Fraud!

I had an agent, “Pat,” contact me this week about one of my listings. Pat’s clients were interested in the house and considering putting in an offer. Pat proceed to ask me how “creative” my clients were. Being left-handed, I’m always open to creativity, so I asked for an explanation of what they had in mind.

Pat gave me some details about how the contract would be structured and then mentioned that the buyers would be looking for my client to cut them a check outside of closing in order to cover repairs on the house. The buyers were short on cash. I told Pat that they were welcome to submit an offer and we would review it. But something just didn’t seem right about Pat’s “creative” deal. Shouldn’t everything should be handled by the closing attorneys and documented on the HUD sheet?

When I got off the phone with Pat, I called a trusted mortgage broker that I use. After explaining the situation, he confirmed that what the agent was suggesting was indeed mortgage fraud. Any payments, credits, etc. need to be called out on the HUD so that the mortgage company knows about them. Anything done outside of closing is illegal because it implies that the house is not really worth the value that the mortgage company is loaning against.

The mortgage broker suggested that Pat might not know that the deal would be illegal. I pointed out the fact that the agent had been in real estate for 15 years, so I was fairly certain that Pat did know that their suggestion was questionable, at best.

The sad part about this situation is that there is likely a way to structure a mortgage so that Pat’s clients can afford the house, legally. If we do actually receive this offer I will be going back to my trusted mortgage person to determine how the deal can be funded so that they can buy the house, and no one is committing fraud.

It’s frustrating to see that this knucklehead is willing to risk their real estate license by playing these games. And how is it ever in your client’s best interests to suggest something illegal to them?

Phew! M-O-B Doesn't Have to Move…

Looks like Max’s Oyster Bar was able to escape a huge rent increase and will be sticking around West Hartford Center after all. Facing a 50% increase in their rental expense after missing a rental agreement deadline, M-O-B averted eviction when a court ruling went in their favor last Friday. So, grab a bowl of New England Clam chowder and some mussels on the half shell and celebrate…

As an aside, this story highlights the importance of reading the details in all contracts you sign and making note of dates that require you to take an action. The consequences could otherwise be very costly.

Water in the Basement- Now What?

This week I went to preview a house for some clients. They indicated interest, so rather than waste their time, I went to check it out to see if the floor plan would meet their needs.

The house is in a very desireable neighborhood in West Hartford. I walked around the first floor and the layout seemed to meet their needs. So far, so good. Then I checked out the upstairs. Good sized bedrooms and a master bath. Perfect, just what they’re looking for. I’m heading for the front door and then realize I should also look in the basement to see if the mechanicals have been recently updated. I turn on the light and a nice surprise, the basement looks finished. Ah, extra square footage, always a good thing. I walk down the steps and as I land on the carpet I hear “squish.” Huh, what was that? I take another step. “Squish.” “Squish, squish, squish.” The basement carpet is soaked.

Swell. Is a pipe broken? What is going on here? The listing office told me that the homeowner is gone for several days, so no one knows about the issue but me. Time to investigate to see if I can figure out what caused it and determine if it’s still actively flooding. Squish, squish, squish. Nope, the pipes seem fine. There are what appear to be older water stains on the carpet and the soaking area is below a basement window. Must be the gutters overflowed during the massive rainstorm we recently endured, directly into the basement window. I trek outside to see if my theory is right. Yep, there is gunk sticking out of the gutters and the mulch around the window well has been completely washed away. At this point I call the listing agent’s cell phone and leave a message for him explaining the issue, as I know the home is vacant for a few days. He never calls me back to acknowledge he received my message or ask me about the situation.

Before I left the house I picked up the Seller’s Disclosures that were provided. They indicate no issues with basement water seepage or dampness. But there was a dehumidifier in the basement, there were older water stains, and I just saw that it was flooded. My disclosure to the other agent has now made this a material fact, which means that, legally, he should disclose this going forward. Will this happen? Most likely not. Did I tell my buyers about this issue? You betcha. If they have any interest in the property I will urge them to get a mold test and ask for monetary concessions to deal with the problem.

This type of situation probably happens all of the time because disclosing an infrequent problem is unlikely to be seen and would only reduce the price a seller can get for the house. This type of deception is illegal, but likely happens on a regular basis because there is a stong financial incentive to do so. I was just fortunate enough to see the problem at its worst, so if my buyers are interested I can adequately protect them. This just illustrates the importance of getting a home inspection in order to further protect your future investment.

What's a Fixture?

Many times when I’m walking through homes with clients, they often ask “Does that come with the home?” and point to something that appears to be attached to the wall. Essentially, they are asking if the object is a “fixture” or not.

Typically in real estate transactions, “fixtures” convey with the property. Fixtures are items that are permanently attached to the home. A central air conditioning system, wall to wall carpet, and a built-in oven range would all be considered fixtures. When you write an offer, you will review an Inclusion and Exclusion form that the seller completed. This form will state what they plan on leaving with the house. Usually all fixtures are assumed to be included, unless they are specifically stated as “excluded” on the Inclusion/Exclusion form.

There are some gray areas when it comes to decorative items like curtains, drapes, and rods. Additionally, small sheds and yard ornaments usually cause some confusion. The best thing you can do is walk the property and write down all the things you would expect and like to stay (within reason, of course) and then make sure your agent includes those items on the purchase contract. You may negotiate back and forth with the seller some, but at least your request will be clear. The worst scenario would be doing the final walk through and realizing that the curtains you loved in the dining room did not convey with the sale. If it’s agreed to in the contract, it should convey with the property.

One final word of caution: plasma TVs. Because they are wired to the house, plasma TVs are being seen as fixtures. So, if you’re a seller and really want to hold on to your plasma TV, make sure it is specifically called out as “excluded” on the Inclusion/Exclusion sheet. You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches down the line.