First of all, on this, the day after the day we are supposed to express our gratitude for all of the things in our lives that we hold dearest – our families, our friends, our health, and the little twisty tops with which vintners are more frequently adorning their mid-priced Chardonnays – I want to offer a belated shout out to our three readers. We are eternally grateful for you because, without you we would have, well, no readers.
With the perfunctory gushing out of the way, I found it oddly incongruent that during this season of good will toward men, of hearth and home and really bad green bean casserole, our own California Real Estate magazine felt the need to devote an entire article to “manners.”
“Agents report that professional courtesies are as rare as no-doc loans,” the article began.
What? You mean people can be inconsiderate, rude, and even (gasp) mean at times?
The piece is littered with several helpful inset boxes, like the one on key courtesy that advises we should be returning the key to the lockbox and closing it after showing, and that we should never give the keys to a friend (although they would make a nice white elephant gift, I suppose). Sadly, as duh-ridden as this handy guide to opening and closing doors is, too many tend to forget that they are invited guests and that some attendant modicum of responsibility and civility comes with the territory.
There is more, of course. Agents, it seems, should return phone calls, keep appointments, and refrain from trash talking other agents. Apparently, beginning a listing appointment with the proclamation that “Agent Alfred is a puppy-hating shyster who jaywalks, lies on his tax returns, and runs with scissors” is poor form for a licensed professional.
The thing is, they got it right. Agents do these things – a lot. But agents are people, and the reality is that people of all feathers tend to misbehave from time to time. With that, I offer you my own handy pocket guide to etiquette. Since the California Real Estate magazine has the agents covered (“You might be a class act if you… introduce buyers to the sellers if they are home when the property is being shown”), I will gear mine towards the consumer.
It is bad social etiquette to:
1. Call your agent fifteen minutes before an appointment, one you scheduled two weeks ago, one for which your agent has spent hours preparing, has planned her day around, and has changed into her big girl clothes, and one to which she is already en route in sideways rain and rush hour traffic, only to cancel.
2. Schedule an appointment to see a home and never show.
3. Schedule an appointment to see a home, fail to show, and then ignore all future attempts by the agent to contact you to reschedule, unless of course you are in traction or have been hog-tied and left for dead in the coat closet by evil-doing intruders because some agent re-gifted your key to a “friend.” In those cases, you get a pass.
4. Call your agent and request a tour of eight homes with two-hour’s notice. Actually, there is nothing inherently wrong with this, but assume that it might not be possible for your agent to turn down the heat on the pot roast, leave his nephew’s Bar Mitzvah during the Hora, or ditch the other clients he is meeting with at that precise moment. And if it isn’t possible, at least feign some understanding about the whole competing demands thing.
5. Be late. If your agent was able to set up the eight-home extravaganza tour, he had to estimate arrival windows as a courtesy to the sellers and, in the case of “shown by appointment” homes, give a precise time. Showing up even thirty minutes late because the game went into overtime can bring the whole house of cards down and place your agent squarely in the “bad manners” article in the next issue of the California Real Estate magazine.
6. Send out a query to multiple agents. And, I’m not talking about a listing or buyer interview here. You should interview multiple agents to represent you. I am talking about the queries I get a half-dozen times a day, like the ones originating from Trulia.com. “I would like more information on the home at 123 Main Street,” reads the pre-populated contact form. And the email goes on to tell me, “Three other professionals received this inquiry. Be the first to respond!”
The whole footrace, may-the-fastest-draw-in-the-west-win approach is fine if you are interviewing agents based on their responsiveness. But absent more information, I don’t know if you are just testing the feature on your own listing, if you are seriously shopping or have just an idle curiosity about your neighbor’s home for sale, if you already have an agent, or if you are playing with Daddy’s computer again.
7. Lie. Don’t say you aren’t working with an agent when you are, just so you can get in to see a home today because your licensed cousin is at the football game waiving his foam finger in my general direction.
8. Tell white lies. Don’t say you aren’t working with an agent because your intent is to only work with the listing agent once you find the right property. We can handle the truth, and we will show you our listings if you are qualified and truly interested, even under those circumstances.
9. Engage multiple agents to search for and show you properties simultaneously. This is another version of the “may the best man win” approach, and you really should pick one. It’s not like shopping for a car (despite the obvious and popular comparison). Agents are not paid – for their time or for their hard costs – until escrow closes. They are not salaried; they are independent businesses with limited time and resources. If you never buy or sell, if your plans change, or if it takes a really, really long time (expressed, even, in geological time) – we are totally down with that. But in return for the agent’s loyalty, they deserve the same. And if you feel an agent isn’t deserving, you shouldn’t be working with him.
Most people are genuinely respectful, honest and a pleasure and honor to deal with. Others, alas, just like some real estate agents, can be knuckleheads. The California Real Estate Magazine asked, “Is there room for manners in tough times?” I’m not so sure the tough times have a whole lot to do with it. Sure, we understand that for many, there is no joy in Mudville right now. We are sympathetic. And because of this, we try our best to practice Goodwill Toward Mean, always giving the benefit of the doubt. But sometimes, where all people are concerned – real estate agents and real people alike — ornery is just ornery, and a little refresher on the rules of basic etiquette is not such a goofy concept after all.