I've just finished reading "Tips for Dealing with Real Estate Agents "—excerpted from a chapter from Les Scher's Finding and Buying Your Place in the Country. After allowing myself a lengthy and anguished "Arrggh!" over the author's numerous mistakes, misconceptions, and obvious unfamiliarity with the entire field, I now set out to write a rebuttal.
First of all, I am a realtor. I'm not a "swamp-peddler," as they used to be known in this neck of the Florida woods, nor do I stay awake nights dreaming of ways to defraud the innocent of their hard-earned dollars. Actually, those Mr. Scher would have us believe are skulking around every corner—waiting to lie, misrepresent facts, and deceive us about our little plot of earth—are few in number and becoming fewer still. This state publishes a monthly list of those who have had their licenses suspended or revoked for all sorts of malpractices. To condemn an entire profession on the strength of isolated examples is absurd.
The realtor has labored long and hard to obtain his professional status. To blow it by stating to some poor soul that a babbling brook runs through the land the "victim" intends to buy—when, in fact, that brook is on a neighbor's property—is not only insane, it's fraud and misrepresentation. Know what can happen when you pull a cute trick like that? You can lose your license, period.
And what if the seller told the salesman that the brook was on his property, and the salesman passed on the information? The salesman can lose his license—zip—because he didn't check the statement to make sure it was fact ... and the broker can lose his license because he's responsible for the dummy who was too lazy to do his job right.
Failure to mention to a prospective buyer that the six-lane Interstate just might be passing through the downstairs john of that nice little house this time next year doesn't exactly net you a slap on the wrist, either. Drop by your local Board of Realtors for confirmation, if you like, or write the National Association of Real Estate Brokers and ask about some recent court decisions. Do you honestly think any responsible broker in his right mind is going to risk his career for one illegal commission? Forget it!
Another point: The average individual doesn't buy real estate every day, and is obviously going to be unfamiliar with the proceedings. If you have questions, ask —and keep on asking—before you sign anything. If the salesman you're dealing with can't give you an answer, see the broker, and if he doesn't know, and makes no effort to find out, then you've got one of the type Les Scher was writing about. Immediately switch agents. A reliable member of the profession will not automatically shrug off all questions as unimportant or merely secondary to the deal, as Les describes.
Scher also seems to be under some sort of misconception about whom the broker represents. He states as fact that the agent works for the seller. This is a mistake. The fiduciary relationship may lie with either the buyer or the seller. The latter customarily pays the commission, but that's not gospel, either.
Les also indicates that when an exclusive right to sell or an exclusive agency agreement exists, only the listing broker may show the property. Wrong again, Les, old buddy. Brokers cooperate, on a regular basis, in the sale of land. Ever hear of MLS (Multiple Listing Service)?
The logical approach to a sale is to secure a meeting of the minds between the seller and a qualified buyer, at a price and terms agreeable to both, in a minimum amount of time. If a listing broker is approached by a colleague whose client is wild about a certain property, his response is not going to be, "Tough luck, sweetie." Normally a contract is submitted and, in the event of a sale, the agents split the commission. The exclusive listing is merely to protect the person who invests his time and money to sell the land so that his efforts won't go down the drain if a fellow realtor appears with a suitable buyer.
A final bit of advice to the prospective land buyer: Your best bet when you're property hunting is to look for the "Realtor" insignia on the broker's sign. The new national emblem is a single "R" in blue and gold, with the word "Realtor" below. We may not all wear white hats in this business, but with the local and national Boards of Realtors playing "Big Brother" we're certainly going to watch our step. The profession's code of ethics is admirable and we who join the board do so because we believe in fair play and honest practices.
Cynthia's letter is just one of many I've received on the same subject from brokers all over the map and I'm sorry that so many honest and conscientious business men and women have been offended by some of the statements in "Tips for Dealing with Real Estate Agents."
Nevertheless, there's no getting round the fact that abuses do occur. Les Scher—a practicing attorney who specializes in land transactions—assures us that all the shady practices he described can be illustrated with numerous examples from his own files and that the same tricks were tried on him when he went land hunting in the guise of an innocent layman. What's more, Les has met with such cases so often that he's become a keen advocate of legislation to protect the real estate consumer.
The profession's self-regulating efforts—as outlined in Cynthia's rebuttal—are indeed praiseworthy, and the many brokers who subscribe to the standards set by NAREB deserve wholehearted respect and support. As long as less ethical agents are still among us, however, the buyer should be aware of the fact and know how to protect himself. Les Scher's book is intended to help him do just that.—MOTHER EARTH NEWS.