Lost in Translation

Several times I’ve had inexplicable issues arise late in a real estate transaction.  It’s not terribly surprising that after more than a decade and hundreds of transactions stuff would come up.  But one of my biggest pet peeves in business is avoidable errors- when something happens that makes a big mess, and knowing it could have been easily circumvented if only one of the two of us (agents) in the transaction had simply followed this one simple step.

Most recently, my buyers had an accepted offer on a home that met all their criteria, and that’s saying something for these particular buyers!  We had hammered out the deal and cleared inspection, so we’re all set to coast to the closing, right?  Wrong.  I began getting increasingly frantic calls from the listing agent asking me what we should do if her sellers couldn’t find a suitable home to purchase.  I tried to empathize as much as possible, going so far as to look through MLS listings using her clients’ criteria to see if I could locate something she’d missed.  But honestly, I wasn’t entirely sure why she’d even involved me in that conversation.  After all, what did her trouble in the purchase have to do with me or my buyers?

Eventually I asked, because she seemed to have a particular date in mind and I still wasn’t seeing what she thought we were going to do for her.  Then she dropped it like a bomb- there was a page that hadn’t made it in her email back to me, an addendum she’d added to address some of her seller’s core concerns.  Having made the offer, and getting all the pages back we’d sent, it wasn’t even on my radar- how could it be?  But here we were, two or three weeks into a transaction, and there are a few terms the sellers are counting on that the buyers have never even heard about, including one allowing the sellers to cancel the deal if they couldn’t find a suitable home by a certain date!  This was going to get ugly real quick.

(As an aside, the agent I was dealing with is AWESOME, and this isn’t an indictment on her at all.  I’ve done business with her in the past as well, and she’s always been extremely professional and demonstrated great skill and professionalism.)

How it ended isn’t super relevant to the story (contact me if you feel that you must know, and I’ll share privately).  The real issue here is how avoidable this problem was.  I’ve been on both sides of this sort of snafu, and it’s never fun, but it’s even worse for your clients, who have expectations that what they see is what they get.  So how can this so easily be avoided?  Page numbers.  This is almost an afterthought to a lot of agents (even great agents), and I do recognize that it is primarily nuisance busywork.  However, I once saved a client from a similar situation where he’d have lost $8k in closing costs because a page didn’t make it into the fax machine (remember those?).  I was surprised that the seller had simply accepted the offer as written, and they were surprised when I asked for the “signed page 10” where the closing costs were requested.  Thank goodness I’d begun page numbering forms about a month earlier, because the missing page triggered the entire agreement clause, and we couldn’t be held to the PA they had signed without the missing page.  What if they weren’t numbered?  I imagine the courts would have had to sort it out, and in the end I’d likely have had to foot the bill.

In my brokerage, I now have a policy requiring page numbers on every transaction file to prevent just such a situation for all of our clients.  I often get non-numbered offers on my listings, and I simply arrange them in the order I prefer, and number each page before sending it back.  These numbers, along with the total pages number on page one, signal what we believe to be the “entire agreement”.  This is really important because our “misunderstandings” can cost a LOT of money, future referrals, and just might cost your buyer their dream home, or your seller their dream buyer (and thus their dream home).

Always get your page numbers into your contracts.  Always.  And update them when you add or take away pages.  Keep your clients and yourself from an embarrassing (and expensive) surprise late in the game; you’ll make a lot more money in the long run, and avoid a lot of unnecessary stress!