From the September 2017 issue of The All Right, Sally Newsletter
“She’s a bimbo,” said the buyer’s agent over the telephone. “She’s stupid. She’s a bitch. That’s really what she is, just a stupid bitch.”
I guess this is what is supposed to pass for negotiating skills in today’s real estate market. Over the years y’all have heard me talk about the problems created in this profession by having such low barriers to entry. However this conversation with a buyer’s agent about potential repairs on a house I have under contract marked a low that even I would never have expected. And we’re just getting started.
“I saw all those pictures, she’s got a live-in boyfriend, “ she says. “And that baby must be adopted, it’s obviously a different color than either of them.”
I can hardly believe my ears. Did another real estate “professional” really just make an incredibly insulting and derogatory comment about my client’s child?
Yes. Yes she did.
When I got started in this business over a decade ago one of the first things I did was to read books about how find success in real estate. Since then I’ve read a lot of books about business, people skills, and negotiating. Maybe I missed it but I sure don’t recall any chapters on insulting children.
One of the best books I’ve ever read on the subject of negotiating is the classic How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Although written over 80 years ago, the wisdom in this book is as relevant today as when the book was published. In one section, Fundamental Techniques in Handling People, the first principle is “don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.” In another, Twelve Ways to Win People To Your Way of Thinking, Carnegie suggests that negotiations should “begin in a friendly way.”
Clearly this agent and I are off on the wrong foot. Maybe I should send her a copy of the book?
The seller, my good friend Stacy, is pretty unique. I like to call her my barber even though, technically speaking, she’s a hair stylist. But that doesn't have a good masculine ring so I call her my barber. She’s been cutting my hair since 2006 and in that time we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well.
Stacy is a self-made woman. She does not live in her parent’s basement. She has a career. And a house. And a nice car. And these are things she’s acquired through hard work and smart decisions - like saving her money and making good investment choices. Nothing was given to her.
At just shy of 5’ 5” with perfect hair (of course), striking brown eyes, and brilliant
white teeth Stacy is a very attractive woman. She has a look that often makes women jealous. People look at her and see an easy target - one they can take advantage of. Whether it’s buying a car, getting homeowner’s insurance, or having a pool installed people have tried to get the upper hand. But Stacy is no dummy by a long shot. Since she’s no stranger to people trying to take advantage of her she’s developed a healthy sense of skepticism that can, on occasion, be just a little over the top.
Knowing her the way I do, I was prepared for some conflict during the inspection process. And because Stacy’s house is a manufactured home (a double-wide, but she gets mad at me if I call it that) I expected some differences of opinion as to what repairs may or may not be required.
Prior to the inspection I prepped the buyer’s agent by telling her a little bit about Stacy and preemptively requesting extra documentation should they request any repairs. When she sent me a report from a structural engineer a couple of days later it had, attached to it, an estimate for $2,300 to fix four problems: missing vapor barrier, attached trailer tongues, non-bonded piers, and lack of a wind restraint system. So, I called Stacy.
“Wait,” she said, “is a vapor barrier that big piece of plastic that’s under my house?”
“Yes, you mean you have that?” I said.
“I think so - I mean the entire underside of my house is covered in plastic. And there’s no trailer tongues here either.”
“I’m coming over,” I said, “ be there in a minute.”
When I got there we broke out the flashlights and got under her house and, sure enough, a full vapor barrier was in place. And there was no sight of any trailer tongues.
Now let me say this, for the record: I don’t know much about manufactured home construction or installation so I’m somewhat at the mercy of people like engineers to tell me if something is wrong. In this case it certainly appears that this engineer is at least partially wrong. But whereas I’m thinking that the he must have made an honest mistake, Stacy is starting to feel like someone is taking advantage of her. As she and I were talking about it I was starting to feel like her skepticism was getting out of hand. That was until she pointed out something I’d completely missed - the engineer who wrote the report also owns the construction company that provided the estimate.
Wait a second, now something does smell fishy.
As it turns out one of Stacy’s friends is an architect who happens to have a background in manufactured housing. He did her a favor and went over to check out the foundation. Folks I kid you not, all four issues raised by the engineer/contractor were, in fact, not issues at all. The house has a vapor barrier and there are no tongues, as we’d seen ourselves. But there was also a Vector Dynamics wind restraint system installed and, because of the foundation type, the piers are not required to be bonded. “You are being scammed,” he said.
Now, I’ve never shied away from talking about the deception, greed, and outright lies that are so prevalent in this industry. But I also try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. On occasion engineers, home inspectors, and other contractors have been wrong about something. I get it, we’re all human. In fact I’ll never forget the home inspector who noted that there was “some sort of contraption outside the garage with water & gas pipes running to it.” He recommended a licensed general contractor inspect it to determine what it was. We skipped that and just told the buyer what it was, a tankless hot water heater, which the
inspector had never seen. Fair enough, honest mistake. But this situation is looking to be anything but honest.
Folks, for the next two weeks I asked questions. I called the engineer, he would not return my calls. I called the buyer’s loan officer - he mostly wouldn’t return my calls and if he did he was combative and defensive of the engineer. Turns out, he’d been the one who recommended the engineer in the first place. I called the buyer’s agent a few times as well but, as you can imagine since Stacy is “just a bimbo” those calls didn’t result in much progress. Everyone just kept demanding that Stacy contribute $2,300 to the buyer.
It was during these conversations with the buyer’s agent that she saw fit to refer to Stacy as a bimbo with a live-in and a baby of a different color who is just a bitch. I tried, to the extent possible, to work around that agent rather than work with her. My thinking was that if I was going to bring Stacy out on top that I wouldn’t get there by playing the game at her level. It took a couple more weeks, two or three meetings, a few trips to the house, and two written reports by the architect but in the end the buyer’s agent and lender backed off. No foundation repairs required or performed. Stacy’s money stayed in her pocket.
If she weren’t my friend I would have never said a word to Stacy about what the buyer’s agent had said. Like The Men In Black, protecting the earth from unknown alien invasions, I’m often tending to serious issues taking place in the background that my clients never know about. But in this case I had to share. You should have seen the look on Stacy’s face.
She smiled. She’d won, and rightfully so. I guess the question now is, who’s the bimbo after all?