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What recourse is there for this agent now that the paper trail is dead?

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An interesting situation

I received a call the other day from a former agent of mine (now a Broker of her own shop) with an interesting situation that she thought I could shed some light on. I’m always eager to talk with a fellow professional and I’m particularly excited to help someone for whom I was once their Designated Broker.

The circumstances to her problem stemmed around a recent sale where she represented the Buyer. The conversation took a turn when she told me the new homeowner tried to turn on their furnace during a recent cool evening here in Seattle (seems we are getting our share of those lately).

Oopsy #1

The problem occurred when the furnace that was (presumably) working fine before these new homeowners bought the house, now seemed to be on the fritz! My former agent told me they asked to have the furnace serviced as part of the inspection response (let me preface by saying that inspections are not a pass/fail thing here in Washington) but never received any invoice or receipt from whoever serviced the furnace (oopsy #1).

Oopsy #2

I asked her if she knew who had performed the service by contacting the seller but it appears the seller is nowhere to be found (oopsy #2). Aside from the relaxed nature of the furnace service on the buyer’s side, our inspection contingency forms clearly state that all repairs agreed to by the seller are to be performed in a “Commercially reasonable manner.”

Help- what recourse is there?

So my submission to you all is this… although there appears to be no “paper trail” the furnace was serviced, if in fact it was serviced at all, and the inspector appeared to give the furnace a “thumbs up” during the inspection, what recourse does the new homeowners have if they want to pursue remedy for the cost of a new furnace?

Your comments are encouraged and any similar situation that can help is also highly sought. Oh, and please, no one beat up my former agent…she feels bad enough as it is!

Patrick Flynn is a 13 year Veteran of this Real Estate fray and a blogger on mySeattleblogs and is active in various social networks. Like many writers at Agent Genius, Patrick wears a few hats other than a Broker's lid- he is also a Certified Real Estate Instructor for the State of Washington and has enjoyed delivering 1,000+ hours of clock hour and non-clock hour approved courses in his career. Patrick has also been a Designated Broker since 2003 and revels in being able to coach and mentor fellow real estate professionals.

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. BawldGuy

    May 25, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    The contract is the contract, meaning that it covers this expressly one way or the other. Either the seller signed something saying it was done, or the inspector did. If neither happened, then I suspect the agent may have a potential problem. The central issue is what the contract says about repairs as it relates to buyer/seller agreement on the inspection report results.

    If, for example, it called for written proof of completion, and the escrow was allowed to close without it, who in your state is held responsible? Or, is it implied that all work was completed if the sale was allowed to close? Those are just a couple ways it could go, cuz as you’re well aware, it varies widely from state to state.

    Regardless, if the solution can’t be found in the contract itself, shame on the state board of Realtors.

  2. Pat Hallesy

    May 25, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    This is where a good home warranty would have come in handy.

  3. markbrian

    May 25, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    Pat hit the nail on the head. A home warranty is always a good idea on top of an inspection.

  4. Benn Rosales

    May 25, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Sometimes we get stuck in the past. I’ve seen air conditioner compressors go out on day 3 of ownership. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t inspected, it was working, but it failed. Thank goodness for a great home warranty that covered compressor not to mention there was some life left on the compressor warranty as well. These things happen. I’ve seen brand spanking new cars not start or stall. In other words, the solution is getting it repaired, rather than finding fingers to point.

  5. Bruce Lemieux

    May 25, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    If the buyer’s agent is actually representing the interests of the buyer, then he/she must make sure the seller does what he agreed to do. If the seller was responsible for servicing the furnace, then the buyer’s agent must insure the seller has an invoice *before* settlement. And – the day before / day of settlement, the buyer’s agent should walk through the home and check out all of the appliances and systems, so if there’s a problem on the day before settlement, money can be escrowed to protect the buyer.

    For two of my listings that closed this week, the buyer agent has looked around the house with their clients, checked home inspection items, and that’s it. They didn’t turned on the A/C, run the dishwasher, nothing. If you are a buyer’s agent, represent the buyer. Go through a detailed walkthrough checklist before you close. After settlement, all issues become the buyer’s issues — and, by default, the buyers agent’s issues.

    Getting a home warranty is often a good idea, but it’s not a replacement for a buyer’s agent doing his job.

  6. Stephanie Crawford

    May 27, 2010 at 2:26 am

    My company requires that we add additional language to all offers that essentially says that the seller will provide a receipt for any work/repairs resulting from negotiations, inspections and/or appraisals. Our general contract only calls for repairs to be completed in a “professional and workman-like manner” so we go the extra mile. It’s a great policy that has covered my @ss on more than one occasion. The trick, of course, is actually getting the receipts before closing. I’m not sure there would be a recourse unless you could prove a seller’s deceit in open court – a difficult thing to do.

  7. Patrick

    May 27, 2010 at 8:21 am

    Thank you all for your great comments. It’s pretty clear the agent should have been more diligent to insure the furnace service and any paperwork was provided. I also agree that a home warrantee is a nice fail safe in this instance as things like a furnace do have a tendency to stop working…often at the most inopportune times.

  8. Ken Montville

    May 27, 2010 at 8:33 am

    I came across something similar to this recently. I was the listing agent and the inspection went fine, everyone signed off on everything and we all went to settlement. About 3 days after settlement some plumbing pipes that were embedded in the concrete slab of the house started to leak. The home warranty company had a maximum they would pay for stuff in concrete and there was no way the inspector could have foreseen something was going to happen.

    This is a case of a) the age of the house and the natural deterioration of the systems of the house and b) the joys of home ownership. So many times, new home owners that run into challenges right after they move in think they can just go back to the Seller for a remedy — like calling the landlord to make a repair.

    I’m sorry. As far as I’m concerned (and I’m not a lawyer), when the ink is dry at settlement the new home owner is responsible for the house and all the systems of the house.

    Fraud is a bad thing, of course. But if the Realtor makes a good faith effort to find the Seller and cannot or the Seller is unwilling to offer a remedy after closing then it’s up to the [new] home owner to take care of their home.

  9. Ashley Howard

    May 27, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    I would like to agree with most that have commented, and say having a home warranty would have cleared this up efficiently. If there was seller’s coverage in place then the home warranty company would have been the ones to dispatch service on the furnace and would most definitely have record of the service. If the buyers have a home warranty then I would assume(depending on coverage details in your state) it would be covered regardless, as most home warranty coverage does not require an inspection.

    Agents may want to be on the look out for a clause that home warranty companies are adding to their policy called “unknown pre-existing conditions”. Some contracts you will find cover “unknown pre-existing conditions” and some will not. The ones that do NOT cover it, will most certainly try to use it as a reason to deny coverage.

    On the upside, the buyers always have the option of adding a home warranty outside of closing that would take care of any additional “joys of home ownership”!

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Opinion Editorials

7 ways to carve out me time while working from home

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It can be easy to forget about self-care when you’re working from home, but it’s critical for your mental health, and your work quality.

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Woman in hijab sitting on couch, working from home on a laptop

We are all familiar with the syndrome, getting caught up in work, chores, and taking care of others, and neglecting to take care of ourselves in the meantime. This has always been the case, but now, with more people working from home and a seemingly endless lineup of chores, thanks to the pandemic. There is simply so much to do.

The line is thinly drawn between personal and professional time already, with emails, cell phones, and devices relentlessly reaching out around the clock, pulling at us like zombie arms reaching up from the grave. Working from home makes this tendency to always be “on” worse, as living and working take place in such close proximity. We have to turn it off, though.

Our brains and bodies need down time, me-time, self-care. Carving out this time is one of the kindest and most important things you can do for yourself. If we can begin to honor ourselves like this, the outcome with not only our mental and physical health, but also our productivity at work, will be beneficial. When we make the time to do things we love, our body untenses, our mind’s gears slow down that constant grinding. Burnout behooves nobody.

Our work will also benefit. Healthier, happier, more well rested, and well treated minds and bodies can work wonders! Our immune systems also need this, and we need our immune systems to be at their peak performance this intense season.

I wanted to write this article, because I have such a struggle with this in my own life. I need to print it out and put it in my workspace. Last week, I posted something on my social media pages that so many people shared. It is clear we all need these reminders, so I am paying it forward here. The graphic was a quote from Devyn W.

“If you are reading this, release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”

There now, isn’t that remarkable? It is a great first step. Let go of the tension in your body, and check out these ways to make yourself some healing me-time.

  1. Set aside strict no-work times. This could be any time of day, but set the times and adhere to them strictly. This may look like taking a full hour for lunch, not checking email after a certain hour, or committing to spending that time outdoors, reading, exercising, or enjoying the company of your loved ones. Make this a daily routine, because we need these boundaries. Every. Single. Day.
  2. Remember not to apologize to anyone for taking this me-time. Mentally and physically you need this, and everyone will be better off if you do. It is nothing to apologize for! Building these work-free hours into your daily schedule will feel more normal as time goes on. This giving of time and space to your joy, health, and even basic human needs is what should be the norm, not the other way around.
  3. Give yourself a device-free hour or two every day, especially before bedtime. The pinging, dinging, and blinging keeps us on edge. Restful sleep is one of the wonderful ways our bodies and brains heal, and putting devices away before bedtime is one of the quick tips for getting better sleep.
  4. Of course, make time for the things you absolutely love. If this is a hot bath, getting a massage, reading books, working out, cooking or eating an extravagant meal, or talking and laughing with a loved one, you have to find a way to get this serotonin boost!
  5. Use the sunshine shortcut. It isn’t a cure-all, but sunlight and Vitamin D are mood boosters. At least when it’s not 107 degrees, like in a Texas summer. But as a general rule, taking in at least a good 10-15 minutes of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D provided by the sun is good for us.
  6. Spend time with animals! Walk your dog, shake that feathery thing at your cat, or snuggle either one. Whatever animals make you smile, spend time with them. If you don’t have pets of your own, you could volunteer to walk them at a local shelter or even watch a cute animal video online. They are shown to reduce stress. Best case scenario is in person if you are able, but thankfully the internet is bursting with adorable animal videos, as a backup.
  7. Give in to a bit of planning or daydreaming about a big future trip. Spending time looking at all the places you will go in the future and even plotting out an itinerary are usually excellent mood-boosters. It’s a bit different in 2020, as most of us aren’t sure when we will be able to go, but even deciding where you want to go when we are free to travel again can put a positive spin on things.

I hope we can all improve our lives while working from home by making time for regenerating, healing, and having fun! Gotta run—the sun is out, and my dog is begging for a walk.

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Opinion Editorials

Why robots freak us out, and what it means for the future of AI

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Robots and humans have a long way to go before the social divide disappears, but research is giving us insight on how to cross the uncanny valley.

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Close of R2D2 toy, an example of robots that we root for, but why?

We hate robots. Ok, wait, back up. We at least think they are more evil than good. Try it yourself – “are robots” in Google nets you evil before good. Megatron has higher SEO than Optimus Prime, and it’s not just because he’s so much cooler. It cuz he evil, cuz. It do be like that.

It’s not even a compliment to call someone robotic; society connotes this to emotionless preprogrammed shells of hideous nothing, empty clankbags that walk and talk and not much else. So, me at a party. Or if you’re a nerd, you’re a robot. (Me at a party once again.)

Let’s start by assuming robots as human-like bipedal machines that are designed with some amount of artificial intelligence, generally designed to fulfill a job to free up humanity from drudgery. All sounds good so far. So why do they creep us out?

There’s a litany of reasons why, best summed up with the concept of the uncanny valley, first coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori (Wow he’s still alive! The robots have not yet won) in 1970. Essentially, we know what a human is and how it looks and behaves against the greater backdrop of life and physics. When this is translated to a synthetic being, we are ok with making a robot look and act like us to a point, where we then notice all the irregularities and differences.

Most of these are minor – unnaturally smooth or rigid movements, light not scattering properly on a surface, eyes that don’t sync up quite right when they blink, and several other tiny details. Lots of theories take over at this point about why this creeps us out. But a blanket way to think about it is that our expectation doesn’t match what we are seeing; the reality we’re presented with is off just enough and this makes us uncomfortable .

Ever stream a show and the audio is a half second off? Makes you really annoyed. Magnify that feeling by a thousand and you’re smack in the middle of the uncanny valley. It’s that unnerving. One possible term for this is abjection, which is what happens the moment before we begin to fear something. Our minds – sensing incompatibility with robots – know this is something else, something other , and faced with no way to categorize this, we crash.

This is why they make good villains in movies – something we don’t understand and given free will and autonomy, potentially imbued with the bias of a creator or capable of forming terrifying conclusions all on its own (humans are a virus). But they also make good heroes, especially if they are cute or funny. Who doesn’t love C3PO? That surprise that they are good delights us. Build in enough appeal to a robot, and we root for them and feel empathy when they are faced with hardships. Do robots dream of electric sheep? Do robots have binary souls? Bits and zeros and ones?

Professor Jaime Banks (Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication) spends a lot of time thinking about how we perceive robots. It’s a complex and multifaceted topic that covers anthropomorphism, artificial intelligence, robot roles within society, trust, inherently measuring virtue versus evil, preconceived notions from entertainment, and numerous topics that cover human-robot interactions.

The world is approaching a future where robots may become commonplace; there are already robot bears in Japan working in the healthcare field. Dressing them up with cute faces and smiles may help, but one jerky movement later and we’ve dropped all suspension.

At some point, we have to make peace with the idea that they will be all over the place. Skynet, GLaDOS in Portal, the trope of your evil twin being a robot that your significant will have to shoot in the middle of your fight, that episode of Futurama where everything was a robot and they rose up against their human masters with wargod washing machines and killer greeting cards, the other Futurama episode where they go to a planet full of human hating murderous robots… We’ve all got some good reasons to fear robots and their coded minds.

But as technology advances, it makes sense to have robots take over menial tasks, perform duties for the needy and sick, and otherwise benefit humanity at large. And so the question we face is how to build that relationship now to help us in the future.

There’s a fine line between making them too humanlike versus too mechanical. Pixar solved the issue of unnerving humanoids in their movies by designing them stylistically – we know they are human and accept that the figure would look odd in real life. We can do the same with robots – enough familiarity to develop an appeal, but not enough to erase the divide between humanity and robot. It may just be a question of time and new generations growing up with robots becoming fixtures of everyday life. I’m down for cyborgs too.

Fearing them might not even be bad, as Banks points out: “…a certain amount of fear can be a useful thing. Fear can make us think critically and carefully and be thoughtful about our interactions, and that would likely help us productively engage a world where robots are key players.”

Also, check out Robot Carnival if you get the chance – specifically the Presence episode of the anthology.

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Opinion Editorials

4 simple tips to ease friction with your boss while working remotely

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Find it challenging to get along with your boss while working from home? Here are a few things you can try to ease the tension.

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Woman stressed over laptop in remote work.

Most people probably feel like their relationship with their boss is fine. If you’re encountering friction with your boss for any reason, though, remote work will often exacerbate it—this is one instance where distance doesn’t necessarily make the heart grow fonder. Here are a few ways to remove some of that friction without adding to your boss’ overflowing plate.

According to CNN, determining the problem that exists between you and your boss should be your first step. There’s one caveat to consider, however: Your boss’ boundaries. Problem-solving on your own time is fine, but demanding more of your boss’ time—especially when you’re supposed to be working—may compound the issue.

An easy way around this is a low-impact communique—e.g., an email—sent at the beginning or end of the workday. Since that’s a more passive communication style that takes only a minute or two out of your day, it’s less likely to frustrate your boss further.

If ironing out the issue isn’t your prerogative for now, examining your boss’ parameters for success is another place to start. Does your boss prefer to receive multiple updates throughout the day, or do they want one summative report each morning? Do you respect your boss’ preferred communication styles? These are important questions to ask during remote work. If you find yourself reaching out more than necessary, for example, it may be time to cut back.

It can also be difficult to satiate your boss if you don’t know their expectations. If you’re able to speak to them about the expectations regarding a project or task, do it; clarifying the parameters around your work will always help both of you. It is worth noting that some supervisors may expect that you know your way around some types of responsibilities, though, so err on the side of complementing that knowledge rather than asking for comprehensive instructions.

Finally, keep in mind that some bosses simply don’t communicate the same way you do. I’ve personally been blessed with a bevy of nurturing, enthusiastic supervisors, but we’ve all had superiors who refuse to acknowledge our successes and instead focus on our failures. That can be a really tough mentality to work with during remote periods, but knowing that they have a specific communication style that hampers their sociability can help dampen the effects.

As always, communication is key—even if that means doing it a little bit less than you’d like.

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