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Fool Me Once, Shame On You, Fool Me… Can’t Get Fooled Again!

132750728_8f0342f1ac_bAt some point in your career, no matter how hard you try, you’re going to get burned by a client.  I don’t think it’s possible for any successful agent to navigate an entire career in this business without getting bit in the ass at least once.  Unfortunately, that “principles of real estate” class agents take to get their license can’t possibly cover the infinite impossibilities that may occur between an agent and their client.

In order to help agents bridge that gap, I’ve put together a list of ideas and actions that agents can take in order to try and prevent customers from burning you as an agent:

Get a Buyer Agency Agreement BEFORE You Start Showing Houses-

If you can’t get a buyer agency agreement signed by your buyer, then you probably shouldn’t be working with them.  Clients love the fact that you can send them listings, show them houses, suggest how to craft offers, etc.  When it comes time to write a contract, however, you might be in trouble.  Nothing is stopping that client from having Curly, their wise-guy Cousin/Agent, write that offer for them.  You’re out of luck, but Curly thanks you for making his job so easy!

Call The Buyer’s Lender Immediately-

Your client, Debbie Dummy, already had a pre-qualification letter in hand before calling you!  She just failed to mention that the letter was written in 1995.  Too bad she’s filed for bankruptcy twice and run up $75,000 on her credit cards since then.  That qualification isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, but if you had called the lender at the start, you could have saved yourself a lot of time and money!

EXPLAIN The Contract!-

Lazy Larry hates reading contracts, especially since they’re far less interesting than the latest copy of NASCAR magazine.  It’s a shame, because if he HAD read the contract, he’d know that settlement was scheduled the same time he’s heading down to Daytona for the big race.  Suddenly you’re stuck with a contract that can’t close while Larry is sunning his beer gut on the top of an RV in the infield, and them there cars is runnin’ so loud he can’t here that phone ringin’ in his britches!

Keep A Calendar-

Ricky Realtor had a great rookie year.  He closed 12 transactions in his first year, but suddenly he’s juggling tons of clients simultaneously and he can’t even remember all of the appointments he made.  If he kept a running calendar, he would know he’s got 3 different clients scheduled for Friday at 3pm, but alas, 2 of his clients are destined for disappointment (and probably a new agent).  Planning big while starting small is important.  It’s easy to manage 2-3 clients at a time without a calendar, but when business grows, you’ve got to be ready to handle it if you expect your clients to keep calling.

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Do A Preliminary Title Search-

Lizzie the Liar listed her house and is about to go to settlement.  That is, she THOUGHT she was about to go to settlement.  The title company just found out that VISA put a $130,000 lein on the home, and the IRS did the same for an additional $200,000.  Too bad Lizze didn’t mention that to you when you listed the home.  Add that to the outstanding mortgage debt and the HOA fees that haven’t been paid since 1987, and you’ve got a house you can’t even sell.  If you had just ordered a prelim title search when you listed the property, you could have saved yourself a lot of aggravation.

Give Yourself Extra Time-

Hapless Harry has gotten himself in trouble again.  His clients are buying their first home, and when he helped them write the contract, he put in a settlement date that was only 2 weeks away.  It’s a bummer that the loan won’t be out of underwriting by then, because the bank is going to charge $150/day for each day they don’t close.  Harry should have given his clients more time to get the deal done, because guess who they blame for this mess?  Turn’s out that Harry’s last name was, in fact, Mudd.

Written By

I'm a Realtor in Southern Maryland. I grew up surrounded by the RE business, spent time as an actor, worked as a theatrical designer and technician, and took the road less traveled before settling down in real estate. I run my own local market website at and when I'm not at the office or meeting clients, I can usually be found doing volunteer work, playing with my 3 rescued shelter dogs (Help your local Humane Society!), or in the garage restoring antique cars.



  1. Lani Rosales

    January 25, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    Jonathan, from a consumer perspective (because I’m not an agent), it seems that the toughest sell is the buyer’s agency agreement and although a skilled agent can explain why it is imperative (other than “I gotsta get paid”), many agents fail to explain it fully, leaving consumers to feel that they are not to be trusted, so in turn they opt to not trust the agent. Do you have any tips on what verbiage agents can use to confidently sell a buyer’s agency agreement without shooting themselves in the foot? Sounds dumb to ask but I’ve heard it pitched so poorly so many times.

    • Nobu Hata

      January 25, 2010 at 5:01 pm

      Yeah, I’d like to hear that one too, although I never have problems having folks sign the Rep Agreement AFTER I show them the value I bring to the table. Usually, that means showing them a house or two first. Loyalty is easy after that. Assuming you’re talking about a new contact/non-referral, anytime before the value-add it’s: “You don’t know me, I don’t know you, but I’d like to get paid anyways. Cool?” It never works.

  2. Michael Bertoldi

    January 25, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    I’m not an agent either and I’m curious how you word the need for a buyer agency agreement as well. Seems like being up front and saying “Hey, I’m going to put forth a lot of time, effort, and sweat into making sure you get the house you want at the best possible price. All I ask in return is you make sure I’m the one who helps you close the deal” would be effective and sufficient?

  3. Jonathan Benya

    January 25, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    Michael, you hit the nail on the head. I may also add in that without a Buyer Broker Agency Agreement (BBA), I am legally obligated as a representative of the seller, and cannot claim to be working in the purchasers best interest. It’s not binding anyone to purchasing a home, but it is rather acknowledging that the buyer understands that I’m here to work for them, not the seller. If they want someone to aggressively protect their interests in finding the best home for the best price, then I need a BBA signed by all parties.

  4. Dan Connolly

    January 25, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    I think that it would be difficult to get someone to sign a buyers agency agreement until they see how you work. It would be like asking a seller to sign the listing agreement before you make the listing presentation. Most smart professional buyers I have worked with wouldn’t think of signing one before they go out a couple of times with a buyer’s agent. They want to see if you show them good properties and if you listen to what they are asking for. They want to see how you think, talk and act to see if they are willing to let you represent them.

    I tell the buyers that they will have to sign one before we can make an offer but never get one signed until then. Those contracts are difficult to enforce because if they do abandon you, you will have to figure out which house they bought, which will not be possible until the property closed and is recorded in the county record. Then when you go to court you will have to convince the judge that you deserve the commission. In my opinion it isn’t worth it. I don’t want to force someone to work with me if they don’t want to. In my opinion, the fact that you do end up working with people where you don’t get paid is what justifies the high commissions when you do get paid.

  5. Jonathan Benya

    January 25, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Dan, you’re right about the difficulty of enforcing such a contract if a buyer were to walk away. I’ve never tried to enforce such a situation, nor do I intend to. At the same time, I do not plan to spend 20-40+ hours with a client showing properties, running statistics, planning an offer all to have another agent write the contract for them. A Buyer Broker Agreement heavily discourages such action, regardless of whether the agent chooses to enforce it.

    Here’s a prime example of why, as an agent, signing a BBA up front is completely necessary:

    Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, this whole thing could have been prevented by clearly defining agency, and WHO the agent was working for. The whole claim hinges on the lack of a BBA. This happened in my area of MD, so IMHO I see no reason to risk consumer confusion or dissatisfaction due to undisclosed or improperly disclosed agency.

  6. Mike

    January 25, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    After explaining agency in detail, I ask them to sign, JUST for the properties that we will see today! It’s like going for coffee or lunch on a first date, as opposed to a complete Friday night commitment. This way they don’t feel too pressured. I include the MLS numbers, to avoid any confusion. By the end of those showings, they should get a good idea of what level of service you provide. I also explain that, I can’t be committed to them, if they don’t feel that I am worth committing to as well. It usually works.

  7. Bruce Dietz

    January 25, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    This is always a difficult issue to address with clients during the first visit. However, after several calls and showing several properties, they are much more comfortable and willing to commit to a contract. Remember, length of contracts are negotiable…some clients will be more willing to commit for three months, rather than six months.

  8. Chris Thorne

    January 25, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    One hard one to balance out is Tenant Agency. How much time should I devote to “Goldylocks and the Three Bears”? Especially if you’re trying to develop a potential relationship with a future buyer a year or two down the road. Make sure you narrow down the choices ASAP with them, ask for refferences with their current landlords as well. Last thing you want is to be surprised when they make an application on a property with an eviction on their record.

  9. Patrick Hake

    January 26, 2010 at 12:42 am

    I typically do not ask for a Buyer Broker agreement before arranging the initial showing appointments. I will always have a lender I trust contact new clients to pre-approve them for a loan, or I ask them to provide me thier pre-approval letter or proof of cash funds. This process in it self tends to shake out the flakes.

    In my market it may take multiple offers before a buyer can finally get an acceptance. I typically require that clients sign a buyer broker as part of the intial offer package. I explain to them that it clarifies how they and I would handle disputes, my minimum commission, and that I will be acting as their exclusive agent until they or I terminate the agreement in writing.

    I don’t want to work with anyone who does not want to work for me, so I am willing to terminate the agreement on demand. I have not had to yet.

    I have had to fire clients before.

    The upside to not requiring a buyer broker agreement before the initial showings, is that you have the chance to qualify the buyer before formalizing the relationship.

    If the clients are not realistic or are flakely, the last thing I want to sign is a document they think binds me to them.

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