Real estate agents often become involved at a crisis point in the life of their vendors – when they are going through separation and divorce.
As a family lawyer, I’m used to being in that crossfire, but as a real estate agent, it might feel like you have been pulled into the vortex of a hurricane. You’re great at your job, but even for the most experienced agent, the dynamic of a family law situation can sometimes be confronting.
So, what can you do to help your vendors through that difficult situation, while also keeping at arm’s length from the family law situation?
- Acknowledge the resistance. One, or both, of the parties may be unwilling vendors. They may have been forced into a situation of having to sell their property, which might have been their dream home or ‘forever’ place. So be empathetic – reassure them that you understand that the sale is not what they want, but that you will do your best to help them by making a lemonade out of a lemon – achieving the best price, quickly, so that they can move on.
- Be transparent. In my experience, agents most often find themselves pulled into the conflict if both parties are not moving forward at the same pace, and on the basis of the same information. Even if one of the parties is much easier to deal with than the other, make sure that each is possessed of the same information – details about offers, open houses, enquiries, critical events. Joint emails are best, so that everyone is on the same page. If everyone knows what is happening, why it is necessary, how it will occur, and when it is happening, there is less scope for discontent.
- Recognise your clients may have different needs. A party walking the Kokoda track can only complete the journey as fast as the slowest walker. It is the same with separated vendors. Due to the separation, one party may embrace change, and make decisions, much faster than the other. If one of your vendors seems like they need more help, discuss with both how to get them that help – do they need to be walked through the sale options, the marketing campaign, or recent sales, in order to make a decision? Give them the extra help they need to keep pace with their co-vendor.
- Stay within the lines. Your vendors will often have orders or other forms of binding agreement in place about how the sale is to be conducted (appointment of the agent, the list price, the sales campaign, the sale price and so on). Ask for that to be produced to you by your clients, or their lawyers. Go through it carefully, and discuss how the listing will be completed, and the sales campaign will unfold, in line with the legal requirements.
- Make it bite-size. If they’ve been through the family courts, your vendors will be used to having a long, long process broken down into smaller parts. Some clients will struggle to make decisions, because of what they’ve been through. While you no doubt already do it, give extra content for vendors who are struggling to comprehend how the sale will unfold – present it in a road map from listing, advertising, and open homes, right through to offers, auction, etc.
- Get the lawyers involved. In many cases, your vendors will have family lawyers. Those lawyers will likely know their client’s fear points, having worked with them over a long time. They can be of help to you if your dealings with one of the vendors has broken down. In particular, they can reality check their client (reminding them of the positives to be achieved from the sale) – if they are thwarting the sale, they can remind their client of their legal obligations, and keep the sale on track.
- Be the glue. As agent, you are the person given the (not always easy) job of keeping the entire process together. More than in other sales, give the clients and their lawyers a regular progress report, outlining the status of the sale, and any challenges or blockages, and your proposal as to how to deal with it. Ask for instructions confirming your proposed course. That way, you are keeping everyone rowing the boat in the same direction.
- Be Switzerland. You know that getting the sale completed is about maintaining trust with both of your vendors, who may be at war with each other. It is easy to become drawn in to the dispute between your clients. But if that happens, you’ll have made the situation worse – that client will then feel that you’re against them, or not working in their interests. Hard as it is, therefore, remain neutral. If you are invited to weigh in, don’t take sides, and stick with the line that your job is to get the sale done.
- Triage problems early. If it is clear that the sale is going to implode, despite your best efforts, address that early. Outline the problem to the clients, and their lawyers, in the form of a report. If the lawyers cannot get the matter back on track, they can intervene, and get some further orders that will help manage the sale.
- Reassure, reassure, reassure. A big part of the sale is likely to involve money – who is getting it, or how it is to be locked up until some future point. Being clear about what things are costing (e.g marketing campaign), or what is to happen with the balance deposit (after commission is paid), is important. Get instructions from both parties, and confirm those arrangements. Ask the parties for the contact details of their family lawyers, and get consent to involve them too (publishing any contract, the projected sale costs, etc). If what is happening with the money is clear, there is less scope for anxiety.
No doubt you’ve already seen it all. Vendors smoking fish during open homes, letting the pool go green, or wandering around in their underwear at the auction. As family lawyers, we’ve seen it all too. So ask us! We know how challenging it can be, and can usually help you with a sales campaign that has derailed. After all, our job is the same as yours – getting the optimum result for the client in the circumstances.