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Before red flags start going off like crazy, first let me tell you that I did get permission from the family I am about to talk about to tell you about their predicament. It’s a huge and frustrating problem and it goes beyond this single family. I sit in complete and total awe at the lack of response this family is getting and feel something needs to change.

Diagnosis

We have a client who I will call Mary that has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Mary’s son and daughter-in-law contacted us months ago about selling their mother’s home in Miami. They explained it would be a slow process because of their mom’s condition and being patient was the key to a successful and non-stressful process. Their mom had lived in the same house for many years and convincing her to sell and move would be very difficult. After months of communicating back and forth, the house was put on the market for sale and Rick has done a beautiful job of making Mary feel comfortable and safe and always keeping in mind the delicate nature of this sale. We were asked to communicate every aspect of the transaction to the family who also had power of attorney. Mary’s kids requested no lock boxes for safety and advance notice for showings.

Predatorial Nature of Real Estate

As you know, we switched brokerages on July 1st and the listing was released to our new brokerage because of the client’s medical condition. This is where the story turns an ugly page. In the time that the listing was canceled on the MLS, another Realtor jumped at the chance of picking up a canceled listing (don’t blame him for that – it’s one of the ways real estate agents get business today). This agent called Mary, went to her house and had a listing agreement signed on the spot. She did not understand what she was signing, agreed to pricing way below what she needed, gave him a key to the property and even agreed to a lock box.

Mary’s daughter and sister called us in total panic. What could they do to stop this madness? They contacted the agent, they contacted the broker and they even contacted RAMB (our local Realtor Board) to remove the listing from the MLS immediately. It’s been 5 days and they have not been able to achieve anything.

  • The broker asked for the medical diagnosis and a copy of the power of attorney and would not cooperate until they had the documents (which were mailed from another state)
  • The daughter asked that the house not be shown until everything was resolved and 2 different people showed up unannounced at Mary’s door this weekend.
  • RAMB said they would try to help but have not done anything
  • The agent was furious at the implication that Mary would be “sick” since she seemed perfectly fine.
  • Mary’s son is out of the country and feels absolutely helpless
  • The agent has changed the price of the house twice in the five days without consent of any kind and refuses to even remove the listing from the MLS temporarily.

Something needs to change

Are you guys in as much shock as we are? The Realtor code of ethics prohibits us from interfering, since the property has been listed with another agent…..and that’s when I just have to stand up and ask:

Who is protecting our elderly? What can we do as Realtors to prevent this from happening to anyone else? What if this agent were to show up tomorrow with a bogus offer and have Mary sign it? What if God forbid something were to happen to Mary because of the irresponsibility and ignorance of this agent?

MLS rules are different throughout the country, but could there be a way to tag canceled listings when they are delicate like this so that people like Mary would not be victim to evil predators?

I don’t know what the answer is, but something clearly needs to happen. Could you imagine what this family is feeling right now? I am completely offended at the way our industry has handled Mary’s case, I bow my head in shame.

Ines is all Miami, all the time. A Miami Beach Realtor® with Majestic properties, Ines authors Miamism.com, PrimeMiamiBeach.com, and MiamismPix.com and is always on communication's leading edge. She goes out of her way to engage and be engaged, often using Mojitos to keep the mood light and give everything she does a Miami flavor. You can find her goofing off or instigating trouble at Twitter, Flickr, Facebook or LinkedIn.

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40 Comments

40 Comments

  1. Ken Smith

    July 14, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    Ines I have to ask, don’t take offense, why didn’t you have the new listing in the same day that the old one canceled out? Whenever I have moved offices the new listing is signed and in the computer saved as a draft before the old one gets canceled.

    As for marking it in the MLS or any other option it would not have stopped what is obviously a predatory type of person. This agent would not have cared what flag you put on the canceled listing, that is obvious by the way they are handling everything.

    Just a thought…A quick call to your local reporter that enjoys investigative reporting will end this. The local news running a story showing how the agent has taken advantage of this person and their unwillingness to cancel the contract due to greed would take care of this issue really quick.

  2. Ines

    July 14, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    Ken, technically, we could not talk to Mary because we would be soliciting another broker’s listing (until the listing was released). Once released we contacted her to sign the new listing agreement and she happened to be there with the other agent….the guy worked at lightning speed.

    The one thing Rick and I are is “by the book” – no offense taken

    The local reporter would have a field day and the family will definitely place a complaint against the agent.

  3. Ken Smith

    July 14, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    Each time I have left offices all listings went with me, part of negotiations when I agreed to hand my license with each office. I also took the time to sit down with the broker when leaving and get it in writing that I could get all listing paperwork in order before we canceled out the old contract. Brokers in general can’t afford to piss off agents that produce (or any agent for that matter) so they are willing to accommodate you if you haven’t burned any bridges. Not that this helps you this time, but hopefully it will help someone else down the road.

  4. Lani Anglin-Rosales

    July 14, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    Ken, regardless of this specific situation, do you think that anything can be done regarding delicate medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s? Ines has a huge heart and is hoping to come up with a way to protect her clients (even if they’re currently represented by someone else due to a piece of paper and unflexible attitude)… thoughts?

  5. Jamie Geiger

    July 14, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    This is just appalling to me, and how does the predatory agent sleep at night. This is very upsetting and I guess this is the reason RE agents rank up there with used car sales persons.

    I would think that if the family has power of attorney, anything “Mary” signed- could and should be contested and anything that Mary signed would not be valid as to her condition. I work with many of my Mom’s friends who are elderly and only have their well being in mind, not just because they are my Mom’s friends, but I also have a great respect for the elderly and my Grandmother died from Alzheimer’s, and have seen first hand the effects of this disease.

    Ines- here in AZ, at my current broker, we have a legal hot line- do you have such a resource? If so, I would contact them immediately to see how you can help this family. I would also advise the family to contact a real estate attorney.

    Best of luck to you.

  6. Ines

    July 15, 2008 at 12:06 am

    Jamie – it’s total lack of respect and ignorance at the same time. The agent had the audacity to tell the daughter today that Mary was perfectly fine when she signed the papers. Mary’s daughter asked “do you expect her to have a sign over her head that reads ‘diagnosed with Alzheimer’s’?”

    I really think of this as a very bad dream – the son with the power of attorney is out of the country, and the daughter-in-law is doing everything in her power and communicating with us on a constant basis. The legal hot line is a good idea, although RAMB told her today that it was the first time something like this happened and they would get back to her.

    We also have the release from the first brokerage saying they release it to the second one under our name and to the length of the first agreement – that may count for something. I hope it is all resolved tomorrow, it has be sick to my stomach.

  7. Ken Smith

    July 15, 2008 at 12:16 am

    Lani I really don’t think there is a good answer here. The situation is to rare and each case will be unique so how do you create a policy to handle it? Doubt that you can.

  8. Laurie Manny

    July 15, 2008 at 12:34 am

    Ines,

    While this situation is heartbreaking contracts and listings are a touchy subject in our business. I ran into a situation years ago with a seller who was schizophrenic. The situation came down to one question. Was the seller declared incompetent by the courts? He was not therefore he was considered to have the legal capacity to sign, and be held to, contracts.

    Unfortunately despite what the doctors say and the paperwork you produce, this may very well be the next hurdle you face.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the agent and broker recognized the situation for what it is and did the right thing?

  9. Michelle Berry

    July 15, 2008 at 1:08 am

    I often work with folks that are “downsizing”. Most are early retirement age and have few ailments. But occasionally I have a client with some sort of ailment or disability and I’m always very sensitive with showing instructions. I am often apalled at how careless other agents can be when trying to show the property, despite the most direct showing instructions. I’ve had more than one retired seller call me, very shaken and upset by a pushy agent trying to push their way through the door without proper notice. I’ve even complained about an especially rude agent who tried to show after it went pending, but there was really no consequence. I feel that we really don’t do enough to protect the elderly, and it’s something NAR really needs to address via training and literature.

  10. Russell Shaw

    July 15, 2008 at 1:54 am

    Nothing gets the attention of a broker faster than a call or letter from an attorney. In this case, that along with a call to the local paper would be what I would do at this point.

    The other agent and his broker’s attitude are way out of line.

  11. Bill Lublin

    July 15, 2008 at 3:09 am

    Ines:

    Some of the information about the contracts here is unclear to me. As I read the post and your comments, it seems that the listing was cancelled, and a new contract had not yet been entered into with the new brokerage. In another it seems that the first listing with your old broker was not cancelled, but an agreement was signed by your old broker assigning the listing to your new company. The key to whether there might be a violation under the Code of Ethics is whether or not the contract with your CB brokerage was terminated or assigned, or released specifically to your new firm (in which case the original contract is still in play) – And I make all of these statements subject to the contract law in your state which would determine the obligations of the parties.

    If the second situation is the case, and the clients would be obligated to pay more then one commission under the terms of the contract(s), then there may be a basis to make a complaint to the local Association under the Code of Ethics.

    In that circumstance a complaint might be framed under Article 1 of the Code which states , “When representing a buyer, seller, landlord, tenant, or other client as an agent, REALTORS® pledge themselves to protect and promote the interests of their client. This obligation to the client is primary, but it does not relieve REALTORS® of their obligation to treat all parties honestly. When serving a buyer, seller, landlord, tenant or other party in a non-agency capacity, REALTORS® remain obligated to treat all parties honestly. (Amended 1/01)”

    By not determining if their client was still obligated under the previous contract (removal from the MLS notwithstanding) then the complaint might suggest that the second agent did not put the client’s interest before their own by obligating them under two contracts.

    In addition, if that is the case, a complaint against the agent might also be made under Article 16 of the Code which states; “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 potential violation would be exemplified by Standard of Practice 16-9 which states “REALTORS®, prior to entering into a representation agreement, have an affirmative obligation to make reasonable efforts to determine whether the prospect is subject to a current, valid exclusive agreement to provide the same type of real estate service. (Amended 1/04)”

    And the potential violation would be further exemplified by Standard of Practice 16-14 which states “REALTORS® are free to enter into contractual relationships or to negotiate with sellers/ landlords, buyers/tenants or others who are not subject to an exclusive agreement but shall not knowingly obligate them to pay more than one commission except with their informed consent. (Amended 1/98)”

    If the listing was assigned to your new brokerage, your actions are validated by Article 16 as exemplified by Standard of Practice 16-20 which states ”REALTORS®, prior to or after terminating their relationship with their current firm, shall not induce clients of their current firm to cancel exclusive contractual agreements between the client and that firm. This does not preclude REALTORS® (principals) from establishing agreements with their associated licensees governing assignability of exclusive agreements. (Adopted 1/98)”

    The key to the making this complaint effectively is whether or not their contract was in place with the first (CB) brokerage at the time the other agent obligated this poor woman to the second contract. – Even if the CB brokerage had agreed to release the listing to the second brokerage, that might not invalidate the first contract. Again, this would all be subject to contract law in your state, which I am unfamiliar with.

    I also hasten to point out that my suppositions about the potential violations of the COE are based upon the limited information gleaned from this post and comments on the post, are my opinions as an individual, and have no substance or authority beyond my opinion as a private practitioner in another state.

    I also agree with Russell, that in addition to a COE complaint (if such is warranted) a strong attorney letter from the client’s family, mioght be in order here.

  12. Paula Henry

    July 15, 2008 at 5:32 am

    Ines – How sad for this woman and her family. Does she have the legal capacity to sign or do her children have POA.

    In the past, I have actually changed the agent to agent remarks to say – do not contact owner -they will be relisting, without having to disclose the nature of her illness. I have yet to have someone take a listing from me when I used this verbiage.

    I hope you get this resolved for this family. I have to say I am surprised at the lack of response from your local Board.

  13. Glenn fm Naples

    July 15, 2008 at 6:07 am

    Ines – I read this “We were asked to communicate every aspect of the transaction to the family who also had power of attorney.” Jamie mentioned an option and Russell made a point of an attorney’s letter to the broker. If you have an attorney friend, you might be able to get a letter written to the broker as Russell stated and pointing out that she does not have the power to sign a listing contract, if that is the fact. There is common law, which does address mental capacity. Asking for a statement of the lady’s diagnosis by the other broker could in fact be a violation of HIPPA guidelines.

    I feel terrible for this family and having to do through this.

  14. ines

    July 15, 2008 at 6:47 am

    Thanks for all the feedback guys – the family will be reading this and I know we’ll find a way out.

    Laurie, you are right about the question of being “declared competent by the courts” and it is a touchy subject. In the case of Mary and I suspect many with her condition, she can sign documents and she has not been declared incompetent. Her family does have POA, but this means that they can sign on her behalf, not that they are the ones that HAVE to sign – this is where Rick and I have sat many hours in discussion.

    Russell – we obviously thought this would be resolved much quicker, but you better believe we will recommend a letter from an attorney – I do suspect that they will release quickly once they receive one.

    Bill – thanks for your explanation and to tell you the truth, you may have hit something there and here is where I find a contradiction and where Mary fell in between the cracks.
    The listing was released to the new brokerage on paper and signed by both brokers but was then canceled in the MLS.

    The MLS, as far as I understand in Florida, is used as a contract – but which superseeds, the written release or the canceled MLS?

    I like Paula’s idea about writing something in the comments, but I doubt that would have stopped this particular agent.

    Glenn – you may be absolutely right – there may be all kinds of violations here not only from the agent, but the broker as well.

    We have also felt that our hands were tied – but I will call our legal hotline, speak to our broker and make other key phone calls this morning to see how we can get this resolved ASAP.

  15. ines

    July 15, 2008 at 7:42 am

    Michelle – lockboxes in Miami are a sensitive subject. Rick and I very rarely use them, and it’s usually with a fixer upper that is empty and even then we prefer showing the property. I was recently referred to a buyer here in Miami who told me that she had worked with 3 different Realtors in a period of 5-6 months and had not once seen a property with them, instead was given the lockbox combination and went unaccompanied. (imagine if this were to happen to Mary?)

    Electronic lockboxes are not used – and houses are burglarized even with electronic lockboxes….it’s a problem I don’t think can be addressed….and it shows how irresponsible a lockbox would be for this particular case.

  16. ines

    July 15, 2008 at 7:45 am

    Again – the question here is what can we, as professionals do to prevent this from happening to another family. I know the ones reading this will have an effective plan of attack for similar situation, but is there something else that can change in the system?

  17. Matt Stigliano

    July 15, 2008 at 8:05 am

    Ines – Wow. I’m sitting here in disbelief. Regardless of the legal ins and outs I just keep thinking that this is a disgusting abuse of a license by the other real estate agent. Legal or not, etheical or not – its just plain wrong. I definitely liked the suggestion of going to the local news as someone like that should be spotlighted for what they truly are. I will be keeping an eye on this, as I hope it all works out for you.

    It makes me mad that people try to do what’s right sometimes, only to be overshadowed by the people who don’t care.

  18. Matt Stigliano

    July 15, 2008 at 8:09 am

    Ooops, I was so frustrated while writing my previous post that I forgot to add:

    I don’t think flagging anything in the MLS would help. Unfortunately, there are those out there that would take advantage of those sorts of “flags” and use and abuse their knowledge of such a condition. I’d like to say it wouldn’t happen, but I’m a realist about these sorts of things, so I have to accept that there are those sorts of people out there.

  19. Jay Thompson

    July 15, 2008 at 8:29 am

    “The agent was furious at the implication that Mary would be “sick” since she seemed perfectly fine.”

    Wow, so this agent has a real estate license AND a medical degree. That’s pretty impressive.

    There’s a standard that is a whole lot higher than the Realtor Code of Ethics. It’s called the “Human Being Code of Ethics”. Did this guy violate Article this and that of the COE? I don’t know. But he clearly violated the unwritten laws of being a decent person and doing the right thing. Hope he feels good about his actions and sleeps soundly. Sadly, he probably sees nothing wrong with what he has done.

    In my opinion, this guy is a putz and a disgrace. And his broker isn’t very far behind him in the “I’m a turd” line.

  20. Don Reedy

    July 15, 2008 at 9:11 am

    Ines,

    I can’t agree more strongly with Russell. An attorney will always get attention. But perhaps the most insightful idea Russell had was to get this story into the hands of the press. Nothing hurts more than bad press, and this very sad, painful, situation should be a great story in the hands of anyone in the printed media looking for eyeballs.

    No matter what happens legally, please, please try to drive this into a story that can be read and told to the public in general. As you so aptly have written, our Code of Ethics can be binding in situations where common sense and decency are thrown under the truck. When that happens, use ALL the tools the good Lord has given you, and turn to the public at large for the hammer you need.

    Thanks, by the way, for bringing this story to all our eyes.

  21. Dan Connolly

    July 15, 2008 at 9:25 am

    Personally, I wouldn’t worry about the Realtor’s code of ethics and would contact the Seller. What’s going to happen? A slap on the wrist? A big fight over the commission? Who cares? What is the ultimate penalty for contacting another agent’s seller? I would risk it. Some things are too important.

  22. ines

    July 15, 2008 at 9:37 am

    Matt – I think you are right about the flagging in the MLS – some people will go to extremes for money without taking into consideration basic human decensy.

    Jay – I’m with you there – a total disgrace (and thanks for the laugh)

    Don – I do think that the attorney letter will be the way to go. The family will have to hire one and hope they can work quickly. This is the first time we have a problem like this, but in a state that is considered “teriree country”, it makes me wonder how many people in similar situations are taken advantage of – This post is the first attempt at bringing this to the public.

    Dan – the seller has been in contact with us from the beginning – the daughter calls and e-mails us constantly and Mary has contacted us as well confused as to what different things mean like “listing price” and “lockbox”.

    UPDATE: I contacted the FAR legal hotline and found a couple of incongruencies. The listing should have been “assigned” to the new broker, not “released” – that’s the first problem. There could be code of ethics violation from the other broker since we do have an exclusive listing agreement even if canceled on the MLS. But most importantly, there could be a bigger violation of dishonest dealings by the agent after being contacted by the family and having been told of her medical condition.

    They did recommend that we stay out of it and have the family keep working on the cancellation as not to complicate the process.

  23. Kaye Thomas

    July 15, 2008 at 9:46 am

    Ines,
    This is a very personal issue with me as my mother is in the early stages of dementia. To an outsider she may appear “fine” at a first meeting but her family and doctor know differently. The other agent is pond scum if after being told by the family of the owner’s problems he is still refusing to co-operate with their requests.

    We are going to see situations like this more frequently. We have an increasing number of seniors with issues that are not “visible” and a hoard of unscrupulous people who will take advantage of them.

  24. ines

    July 15, 2008 at 10:09 am

    Kaye – then what can we do to protect our elderly?? It’s the question that keeps going around in my head. Who is watching over them and making sure they are taken care of?

  25. Matt Stigliano

    July 15, 2008 at 11:47 am

    Ines – I think we can do exactly what you’re doing…care. Sure, its not going to stop everyone, but with enough people thinking and doing the right thing, there will be less people doing and thinking the wrong thing (think of it as watering down a drink…the more water you add, the less it is the original drink and therefore the more pure water it becomes. You’ll never make it 100% water, but you can eliminate most of the original liquid through dilution). I’m a firm believer that if the good percentage outweighs the bad percentage then (for the most part) things will fall into place. You will never stop all of the people in this world from doing what they do, but in time with enough eyes and ears looking for these sorts of things, more people can be saved from becoming victims of this sort of thing.

  26. ines

    July 15, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    Matt – I think you are right – it takes a few of us caring to make a difference. To think that there are thousands of vulnerable elderly people not as lucky as Mary because they don’t have families to protect them makes me cringe. (thanks for coming back and helping out)

  27. Ginger Wilcox

    July 15, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    Legality, code of ethics, it doesn’t matter. We shouldn’t have to look up a rule or definition to abide by standards of human decency. Despite some sharks, there are fortunately a lot of caring agents in our profession who do truly look out for their clients. Hopefully, we can continue to educate consumers and aide them in making wise choices and eventually the sharks will be put out of business.

  28. Matthew Rathbun

    July 15, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    I’ve scanned the comments and apologize for being late to the party on this. This makes me ashamed to be part of the industry…. My first job as a teenager was as an aide in a nursing home Alzheimer’s unit. As if seeing this heart-breaking illness wasn’t enough, there are always people out there that are looking to take advantage of the situation. In two years time we saw three attorneys take advantage of our residents.

    Having said all that, a basis for most contractual agreements is the element of competency. I am not an attorney, but the FIRST question to the family attorney would be based on the validity of a contract (listing agreement) signed by someone of questionable competency and potentially under duress. Was the seller concerned or convinced that you had abandoned her and was some urgency that she MUST re-license?

    With all due respect to Bill, and as someone who has served for years on professional standards and now staff liason – screw the COE in this instance. Based on the information provided and Broker’s refusal to at least take the listing off the market till this can be sorted out; I would go straight to the real estate board and look at more definitive discipline. You risk not being able to file for the association, if the 180 days have gone by. Some of the Associations that I know well do make it a policy to send their findings and the potential violation to the Real Estate commission. But that could be a long process….

    Taking advantage of an elderly person is not excusable. I don’t know what the association can do, post authorization to the listing. Interfering with a contract is violation and the Association can’t be responsible for that. However, they should have a certified mediator that can meet with the brokers.

    Can the family not use their POA to terminate the listing? Seems like the attorney who drafted the POA should be drooling over the chance to pursue the new listing company…

    I’m with Ginger, this is a question of professionalism and morality. More so, I would imagine that this would be question reputation and public perception on behalf of the new company.

    Thanks for ticking me off… This had been a good day till now!

    I’ll chat with you more off the blog.

  29. Melina Tomson

    July 15, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    I was about to say what Matt said in that have the family use their POA to cancel the listing. It’s better to cancel the listing and deal with any “termination fees” than drag this out any longer. Judge’s don’t tend to hold people in esteem who take advantage of those with disabilities.

    In Oregon we can sign a new listing agreement with someone under another contract that starts after the expiration date of another one. So if a seller is unhappy with an agent they can execute a new contract to start immediately after the other one ends. The new contract can be signed and executed for services to start at a future date. It doesn’t have to be the date that the contract was signed. That is how most “transfers” are handled here. That way there is no break in service.

    I have seen a couple of times on the MLS, do not solicit for various reasons.

    I’ve never had an elderly client with Altzheimers, but when possible, I insist that a trusted friend or family member be present for contracts. It reduces their anxiety and many elderly folks haven’t sold a home for 40 years and really need to know that someone is watching their back.

    I’ve had completely with it elderly folks in their 90’s as clients, and I asked their children to execute a POA for ease of the transaction.

    Personally I am floored that the broker wouldn’t release the contract. Somehow, I feel that FL is going to lose another agent fairly soon. Our investigations seem to take about 6 months out here from the real estate board.

  30. Dan Connolly

    July 15, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    The more I think about this the more I think the answer is to go and change the locks throw the agents sign in the trash and remove the lockbox with bolt cutters, and file a lawsuit.

  31. Bill Lublin

    July 16, 2008 at 4:25 am

    Ines ; You mention;”The listing was released to the new brokerage on paper and signed by both brokers but was then canceled in the MLS.

    The MLS, as far as I understand in Florida, is used as a contract – but which superseeds, the written release or the canceled MLS?”

    Your contract supercedes the MLS completely as it is a contract between the parties. I would right a really strong letter to the broker (please feel free to use the earlier comment to explain to them the ethics violation they face), in which you explain to them that if they do not immediately release the property, you will a) file with the Association (and the 180 days doesn’t start until you are aware of the issue so I’m pretty sure there isn;t a problem there – and is measured to the date you file anyway) and that b) Your client will at the same time hire an attorney (who will sue them for obligating their client to pay more then one commission) and c) file a complaint with your real estate licensing authority. Your letter might also point out that they may not be able to enter into an enforceable contract since a POA has been given, and the client has a medical diagnosis which might lead a cout to doubt her competency to enter into a contract.

    In my experience, with all due respect to Matt,a strong letter with a actual detailed explanation of the negative actions being taken is often enough to jolt the other party out of their actions.Once it is clear that you know what you are doing, have put in writing your detailed intentions to do so within 24 hours, and have explained that they will be facing actions on at least three fronts, the bad guys may just decide to do the right thing. Having had similar situations where other companies have acted poorly as these have, I gotta tell you this works.

    If you need help Dm me on twitter – I have two meetings today, but I do write a hell of a letter if you need one! 🙂

  32. ines

    July 16, 2008 at 7:52 am

    Ginger – your statement is right on – where is human decency? what has happened to our society when it ties our hands back when it comes to doing what’s right? – It’s pretty sad.

    Matthew – The problem begins with Mary not yet being declared incompetent by the court – her signature is still valid, no matter if she does not understand the implications (it could be proven, but would you make this sweet lady go through the whole ordeal?) She did in fact understand that the property was being relisted under another brokerage and that it would be almost instantaneous – what I don’t understand is what the other agent must have told her for her to sign the new one and when her family asked, she didn’t even remember.

    FYI – the family has hired an attorney and a letter is going to the broker this morning, I’ll keep you posted.

    Melina – here’s the situation, the son is the one with the power of attorney and he is in the Military and currently out of the country – because the family lives in a small town and don’t have access to a fax, they snail-mailed the POA and diagnosis to the brokerage last week. As of yesterday afternoon, they had not received the letter yet. But as of this morning, the listing has been placed “temporarily off the market” on the MLS – Thank GOD!!

    As of having someone present for contracts, that’s exactly what happened when we signed – Mary’s sister was present and made it easier – but with this second guy, it felt like he ambushed her and no one knew what was happening.

    Dan – the daughter had already advised Mary’s sister to change the locks – if you guys would only understand the implications of Lock boxes in Miami you would be even more floored.

    Bill – thanks for your offer (I may take you up on that one of these days – I’m sure between you and Rick…..a letter would be petrifying!!) 😉 Attorney letter on its way and daughter threatened to call the press as well.

  33. Thomas Johnson

    July 17, 2008 at 8:28 am

    Ines: When you have the listing clear of controversy, please let us know who, so that the long tail of Google can wag that slimy broker.

  34. ines

    July 17, 2008 at 11:01 am

    Thomas – you are so funny!

    Good news guys!! The listing has been canceled! On our way to re-list it before another predator swoops over Mary.

  35. Ken Smith

    July 17, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Glad it worked out. That had to be very stressful for your clients and yourself.

  36. Dan Connolly

    July 17, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    Ines, any idea what happened?

  37. ines

    July 17, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    It’s not quite over yet – the listing was canceled on the MLS but the owner has not yet received a written cancellation. All the new listing papers are signed, new sign in front of property, lockbox removed, locks changed – what a relief
    (but Mary never received a copy of the listing agreement, so the written cancellation is a must to prevent any other problems)

  38. Steven Beam

    August 2, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    When I changed brokerages (one time) I had all the listing agrements signed well in advance and switched it all in one day.

    I hope the local board deals with the ruthless broker. I’m a little shocked the other broker actually asked for medical records.

  39. ines

    August 2, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    Steven – Rick and I didn’t want anything signed as not to violate the COE…and honestly, we didn’t know the listing would be released so quickly. Although it took the other brokerage a letter from an attorney to cancel it, the good news is that the property is under contract now and Mary is happy to be able to move ahead with her plans

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Opinion Editorials

Ways to socialize safely during quarantine

(EDITORIAL) Months of isolation due to quarantine is causing loneliness for many, but joining virtual social groups from home may help fill the need for interaction.

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Quarantining, sheltering in place, staying home. We’re tired of hearing it; we’re tired of doing it. Yet, it’s what we still need to be doing to stay safe for a while longer. All of this can be lonesome. As the days turn into weeks and weeks into months, the alone time is getting to even the most introverted among us.

Solitary confinement is considered one of the most psychologically damaging punishments a human can endure. The New Yorker reported on this in a 1992 study of prisoners in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, as well as Vietnam veterans who experienced isolation. These studies showed that prisoners who had experienced solitary confinement demonstrated similar brain activity to those who’d suffered a severe head injury, noting that “Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.”

We aren’t meant to be solitary creatures. Your “pandemic brain” is real. That fogginess, the lack of productivity, can be attributed to many things, including anxiety, but being kept apart from other humans is a big part of it too. Be kind to yourself, give yourself grace, and join others virtually. Be it an app, a class, a Facebook group, a chat room, or a livestream, someone somewhere is out there waiting to connect with you too.

The good news? We are lucky enough to live in an era of near limitless ways to interact socially online. Sure, it is different, but it is something. It’s important. The best thing about this type of social interaction is being able to hone in on your specific interests, though I’d caution you against getting caught in an online echo chamber. Diversity of interests, personality, and opinion make for a richer experience, with opportunities for connecting and expanding your worldview.

Here are a few suggestions on ways to socialize while staying home and staying safe. Communicating with other humans is good for you, physically and mentally.

Interactive Livestreams on Twitch:

Twitch is best known as a streaming service for video game fans, but it offers multiple streams appealing to different interests. This is more than passive watching (although that is an option, too) as Twitch livestream channels also have chat rooms. Twitch is fun for people who like multi-tasking because the chat rooms for popular livestream channels can get busy with chatter.

While people watch the Twitch hosts play a video game, film a live podcast, make music or art, mix cocktails, or dance, they can comment on what they’re watching, make suggestions, ask questions, crack jokes, and get to know each other (by Twitch handle, so it is still as anonymous as you want it to be) in the chat room. The best hosts take time every so often to interact directly with the chat room questions and comments.

Many Twitch channels develop loyal followers who get to know each other, thus forming communities. I have participated in the Alamo Drafthouse Master Pancake movie mocks a few times because they are fun and local to Austin, where I live. Plus, in my non-quarantine life, I would go to Master Pancake shows live sometimes. The chat room feels familiar in a nice way. While watching online is free, you can (and totally should) tip them.

Online trivia in real time:

There are some good options for real-time online trivia, but I’m impressed with the NYC Trivia League’s model. They have trivia games online on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The NYC Trivia League seems to have figured out a good way to run the game live while keeping answers private from the other teams. They run games on Instagram Live with a live video of the host, and participants answer via the question feature. Clever!

Online book club:

First I have to shout out my Austin local independent bookstore, BookPeople, because they are fantastic. They run book clubs throughout the year, along with readings, book signings, and all things book-related. BookPeople hosts several online book clubs during these lockdown days, and most people will find something that appeals to them.

I’m also impressed with this list from Hugo House, a writer’s resource based out of Seattle. This list includes Instagram and Goodread book clubs, book clubs for Black women, rebels, and poetry lovers. The Financial Diet recommends the Reddit book club, if you are comfortable with the Reddit format. Please note that it’s a busy place, but if you like Reddit, you already know this.

Cooking class or virtual tasting:

This is doubly satisfying because you can follow these chefs in real time, and you end up with a meal. There are a couple on Instagram Live, such as The Culinistas or Chef Massimo Bottura.

You can also participate in virtual tastings for wine, whiskey, or chocolate, though you will have to buy the product to participate in the classes (usually held over Zoom or Facebook Live). If you are in Austin, Dallas, or Houston, I recommend BeenThere Locals. The cost of the course includes the wine, spirits, or cooking kit in most cases, and all of the money goes to the business and expert hosting the class.

Look for your favorite wine, spirits, cheese, chocolate makers, and chefs that are local to you to find a similar experience. Most either prepare the class kit for pickup or delivery within a local area.

Quarantine chat:

To interact with another quarantined person seeking social interaction, there’s Quarantine Chat. Quarantine chat is one of the ways to connect through the Dialup app, available on iOS and Android devices. Sign up to make and receive calls when you want to speak with someone. The Dialup app pairs you randomly with another person for a phone conversation, at a scheduled time, either with anyone or with someone with shared interests.

Quarantine chat takes it a step further with calls at random times. When your quarantine chat caller calls, you will not see their number (or they yours), only the “Quarantine Chat” caller ID. If you are unable to pick up when they call, they will be connected with someone else, so there is no pressure to answer. It’s nice to hear someone else’s voice, merely to talk about what you’ve been cooking or what hilarious thing your pet is doing.

Play Uno:

Uno Freak lets people set up games and play Uno online with friends or strangers. Players do not need to register or download anything to play. Uno Freak is web-based.

Talk to mental health professionals:

If your state of loneliness starts sliding toward depression, call someone you can speak to right away to talk over your concerns. When in doubt, call a trained professional! Here are a few resources:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET, 800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org.
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to this text line 24/7 for someone to text with who will also be able to refer you to other resources: U.S. and Canada: 74174, U.K. 85258, Ireland: 50808.
  • Psych Central has put together this comprehensive list of crisis intervention specialists and ways to contact them immediately.

There are many ways to connect even though we are physically apart. These are just a few real time ways to interact with others online. If you want something a little more flesh and blood, take a walk around the block or even sit in a chair in front of where you live.

Wave at people from afar, and remember that we have lots of brilliant doctors and scientists working on a way out of this. Hang in there, buddy. I’m rooting for you. I’m rooting for all of us.

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Opinion Editorials

Working remotely: Will we ever go back? (Probably not)

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Now that the pandemic has opened the door on working remotely, there’s no way we’ll put the genie back in the bottle. But, here’s some ways you can adapt.

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Woman working remotely on her couch with a laptop on her lap.

When it comes to working remotely, will the toothpaste ever go back in the tube?

Mark Zuckerberg recently said, “We are going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale…” By 2030, Zuckerberg anticipates that over half of Facebook’s workforce will be remote. Many other companies are jumping on the work from home bandwagon. Working remotely has helped many businesses manage the pandemic crisis, but it’s unsure what form remote working will take over the next 10 years.

We know that employees are responding positively to WFH, as reported in this article – Employers: Lacking remote work options may cause you to lose employees. As offices transition to a post-COVID normal, here are some things to consider about your office and remote work.

What does your business gain from allowing workers to WFH?
The future of remote work depends on a conscious application of WFH. It’s not just as easy as moving employees out of the office to home. You have to set up a system to manage workers, wherever they are working. The companies with good WFH cultures have set up rules and metrics to know whether it’s working for their business. You’ll need to have technology and resources that let your teams work remotely.

Can your business achieve its goals through remote work?
The pandemic may have proved the WFH model, but is this model sustainable? There are dozens of benefits to remote work. You can hire a more diverse workforce. You may save money on office space. Employees respond well to remote work. You reduce your carbon emissions.

But that can’t be your only measure of whether remote work fits into your vision for your organization. You should be looking at how employees will work remotely, but you need to consider why employees work remotely.

The work paradigm is shifting – how will you adapt?
The work environment has shifted over the past century. Remote work is here to stay, but how it fits into your company should be based on more than what employees want. You will have to work closely with managers and HR to build the WFH infrastructure that grows with your organization to support your teams.

We don’t know exactly how remote work will change over the next decade, but we do know that the workplace is being reinvented. Don’t just jump in because everyone is doing it. Make an investment in developing your WFH plan.

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Opinion Editorials

The truth about unemployment from someone who’s been through it

(EDITORIAL) Unemployment benefits aren’t what you thought they were. Here’s a first-hand experience and what you need to know.

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Have I ever told you how I owed the government over two grand because of unemployment in 2019, and only just finished paying it back this year?

This isn’t exactly the forum for memoirs, but this is relevant to everyone. So I’ll tell y’all anyway.

It all started back in 2018 when I came into work early, microwaved my breakfast, poured coffee, and got pulled into a collaboration room to hear, “We love you and your work, April, but we’ve been bought out and you’re being laid off.”

It was kind of awkward carrying my stuff out to the car with that Jimmy Dean sandwich in my mouth.

More awkward still was the nine months of unemployment I went through afterwards. Between the fully clothed shower crying, the stream of job denial, catering to people who carried rocks in their nostrils at my part-time job (yes, ew, yes, really), and almost dying of no-health-insurance-itis, I learned a lot!

The bigger lesson though, came in the spring of the following year when I filed my taxes. I should back up for a moment and take the time to let those of you unfamiliar with unemployment in Texas in on a few things that aren’t common knowledge.

1: You’re only eligible if you were laid off. Not if you had quit. Not fired. Your former company can also choose to challenge your eligibility for benefits if they didn’t like your face on the way out. So the only way you’re 100% guaranteed to get paid in (what the state calls) “a timely manner”, is a completely amicable split.

2: Overpayments have to go back. Immediately. If there’s an error, like several thousand of Texans found out this week, the government needs that cash back before you can access any more. If you’re not watching your bank account to make sure you’re getting the exact same check each time and you have an overpayment, rest assured that mistake isn’t going to take long to correct. Unfortunately, if you spent that money unknowingly–thought you got an ‘in these uncertain times’ kinder and gentler adjustment and have 0 income, you have a problem. Tying into Coronavirus nonsense is point three!

3: There are no sick days. If ever you’re unable to work for any reason, be it a car accident, childbirth, horrible internal infection (see also no-health-insurance-itis), you are legally required to report it, and you will not be paid for any days you were incapacitated. Personally, my no-health-insurance-itis came with a bad fever and bedrest order that axed me out of my part time job AND killed my unemployment benefits for the week I spent getting my internal organs to like me again. But as it turned out, the payment denial came at the right time because–

4: Unemployment benefits are finite. Even if you choose to lie on your request forms about how hard you’re searching for work, coasting is ill-advised because once the number the state allots you runs out…it’s out. Don’t lie on your request forms, by the way. In my case, since I got cut from my part-time gig, I got a call from the Texas Workforce Commission about why my hours were short. I was able to point out where I’d reported my sickness to them and to my employer, so my unpaid week rolled over to a later request date. I continued to get paid right up until my hiring date which was also EXACTLY when my benefits ran out.

Unemployment isn’t a career, which is odd considering the fact that unemployment payments are qualified by the government as income.

Ergo, fact number five…

5: Your benefits? They’re taxed.

That’s right, you will be TAXED for not having a job.

The stereotype of the ‘lazy unemployment collector burdening society’ should be fading pretty quickly for the hitherto uninformed about now.

To bring it back to my story, I’d completely forgotten that when I filed for unemployment in the first place, I’d asked for my taxes NOT to be withheld from it–assuming that I wasn’t going to be searching for full time work for very long. I figured “Well, I’ll have a tax refund coming since I’ll get work again no problem, it’ll cancel out.”

Except, it was a problem. Because of the nine month situation.

I’d completely forgotten about it by the time I threw myself into my new job, but after doing my taxes, triple checking the laws and what I’d signed, it was clear. Somehow…despite being at my lowest point in life, I owed the highest amount in taxes, somewhere around the 2k mark.

Despite being based on a system that’s tied to how much income you were getting before, and all the frustrating “safeguards” put in place to keep payments as low and infrequent as possible, Uncle Sam still wants a bite out of the gas-station Hostess pie that is your unemployment check. And as I’m writing this, more and more people are finding that out. And even as we enter 2021, there is still more to be aware of – we’re not out of the woods yet.

I’d like to end this on a more positive note… So let’s say we’ve all been positively educated! That’s a net gain, surely.

Keep your heads up, and masked.

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