When the Notice or Amendment appears unfavorable, why do we call the other agent?

Working through inspection related contingencies is when the most agent to agent calls (by calls I mean text, email, and phone calls) are initiated.  Why is a call made so quickly in response to Notices and Amendments?  I believe it’s an unnecessary practice.  Here’s why:

The Offer to Purchase is an agreement between the Buyer and Seller. Sufficiently written contingencies (and every licensee believes they wrote sufficient contingencies) include the steps the parties will take when this or that happens. The contingencies define key terms. The parties agreed to these steps and terms. When one party follows those terms by sending a Notice or Amendment, or doesn’t follow those terms, by sending the wrong form or no form, the receiving party has a predetermined course of action. Nothing in the contract or license law states a licensee must, or should, make a call to object, question, debate, or educate the sender.  The approved and understood options include the recipient party responding by Notice, Amendment, acceptance, or silence. Of the  approved forms for licensees, email, text, and phone calls are not mentioned for good reason.

Lawyers may have permission to speak on behalf of their clients. They may have the protection to make representations. Licensees do not have the legal authority of an attorney. A good way to lose the authority we still have to complete forms is to fail to complete forms. Let’s think about this.

A call (text, phone, email, fax) is documentation of a message from one licensee to another. The commitment to the statements is arguably attached to the sender and whomever responds.  There is no commitment to the statements from the principals. A Notice, Amendment, Counter Offer on the other hand, is signed by the principals confirming the words are their words; the promise is their promise; the responsibility is their responsibility.   Documentation is clear when appropriate forms are signed.

If the intent of a call in lieu of a proper form is to speed the process or challenge the other agent, the intent is reason enough that the form is a better choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Do We Want to Accomplish?

 

Seth Godin’s Blog

“Will the seller take a cash offer with no contingencies?”

Offers to Purchase are handshakes. You own this property, and I want to own it. I’ll give you $X and you give me the Deed on this date. The details could be left out if no one ever had a reservation. The details are the exit doors. Our job is to attempt to make clear what everyone intends and expects.

Dishonorable people intent on not keeping a promise will not be impeded by language of a contract.  Seth Godin notes that our future depends on good agreements with good people. What do we want to accomplish? We want to work with good people. The good contracts keep us in business so the good people can benefit from our good work.

Inspection Contingency: Two ambiguous deficiencies you want to avoid

Wisconsin Residential Offer to Purchase page 9 of 9, Inspection Contingency

Deficiency number 1. NOT TESTING.  Line 410 reads: “This contingency only authorizes inspection, not testing…”. To add clarity, lines 395-409 have the definition of the terms inspect and test.  You can inspect, but you shall not test.   It’s agreed, testing can not be done without a specific contingency and the inspection contingency is specifically not for testing.  Or, is it? At least one firm in Madison has an addendum with an additional contingency altering the inspection contingency to apparently permit testing.

“Addition to Home Inspection Contingency: It is understood that if the buyers’ home inspector recommends that additional inspections/test be completed, Seller agrees to that portion of the inspection being extended for ____days…”.  I put the problematic words in bold.  If I’m interpreting this correctly, if a home inspector recommends a radon, mold, lead paint, water, or air quality test be done, the contingency is extended.  I don’t know if the parties are agreeing to permit the test, or just extend the contingency satisfaction deadline.

Practice Tip:  Do not include any reference to testing under the Inspection Contingency. Use a specific testing contingency with stated acceptable levels.

Deficiency number 2, NOT ENTIRE PREMISES. line 412 to 413: “This Offer is further contingent upon a qualified independent inspector or independent qualified third party performing an inspection of________________________________________________________________________(list any Property component(s) to be separately inspect, e.g., swimming pool, roof, foundation, chimney, etc.)…”. Even with the hint telling us to insert components of the property, some licensees are writing “Entire Premises”.  The consequence of the words “entire premises” in the blank where specific components are to be written may be this:  A qualified independent inspector or independent qualified third party may do the inspection of the property instead of a “Wisconsin registered home inspector” as was first stated on lines 410-411.

When a component (fireplace, roof, foundation…) is inserted in the blank line as intended, the contingency is not ambiguous, and we have an agreement by the parties to allow a buyer to have a Wisconsin registered home inspector inspect the entire property, and a qualified third party or other inspector inspect the component stated, such as “the fireplace, the roof, the swimming pool, the shed, etc.”.

Practice Tip:  When in doubt about what might be written in the blank lines, first look to see if the creators of the form offered any hints or suggestions immediately after the blank lines. I can think of two places where they’ve done so in the Offer. If there is no suggestion, and you feel it necessary to insert something, make sure the words you choose complete a sentence and do not contradict the intent of the contingency.

 

 

Time is of the essence. The “little details” matter.

This is a portion of an actual text from a Wisconsin real estate licensee’s response to a licensee who is trying to get an amendment accepted to extend a contract deadline: I think keeping in focus we are doing the work and we are set to close should be the focus. The little details always solve themselves. Well then, all you attorneys and real estate licensees may as well find another profession. Little details don’t need your attention.

Isn’t it the little details the Supreme Court hears and decides on to settle constitutional rights?  Does “Time is Of The Essence” in the Offer to Purchase contract mean something different for the “little” contingencies? I see 7 court cases sited on page 7-35 of the Wisconsin Real Estate Law, 2017 Edition which make it clear, the little details do matter.

The Wisconsin Offer to Purchase WB-11, is a nine page form filled with little details.  Those little details make or break transactions. Licensees who initiate compliance with the little details are doing the job they are licensed to do. Intentional disregard to the little details is setting the parties up for a dispute. Compliments to the buyer agent licensee who took the initiative to protect the customer (the Seller) and the client (the buyer) in spite of the haughty attitude of the listing agent licensee who could not be bothered with the little details.

 

Letters to the Seller. What’s the intent?

Google will give you 1,040,000 results for “Dear Seller Letter”. From upstart real estate agents to the biggest players in the field, including Realtor.com, love letters to sellers are promoted as the key to success for buyers negotiating in Seller Markets.   A lot is being written about something that has nothing of real evidence to prove its value. There is no scientific evidence to support the notion that the love letter makes a difference. Oh, there are incidents where people believe it made a difference, even THE difference. But those incidents do not qualify as a scientific study.  On the other hand, substantial evidence supports the fact that people who submit offers with the most favorable price and/or terms for the Seller, provide the most definite assurance that they are capable of closing on time, and are committed to honoring the terms of the contract, are highly likely to have their offer accepted.

In spite of the lack of evidence, advice from people in the real estate industry encouraging buyers to write Dear Seller letters continues to pour in.  I scanned a dozen web site stories and saw  versions of this  suggestion often encouraged:  “…always include a photo…” of your family.  Apparently the “family” photo makes your Offer stand out. It shows the Seller who you are. It shows the seller you might have something in common. It tells the Seller you will be good stewards of the home they love.

Could those reasons be faint cover for communicating another message? What is the intent of these letters?  If the intent is to persuade the Seller to look favorably upon the Offer because of the appearance of the buyer, arguably a line has been crossed.  The Wisconsin law says a licensee is subject to disciplinary action “…if it is found that the licensee treated any person unequally solely because of sex, race, color, handicap, national origin, ancestry, marital status, lawful source of income, or status a a victim off domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking.”   

There is a better way to make a Buyer’s Offer stand out, and we are all capable. The licensee who improves their ability to craft Offers to purchase with terms more favorable to the Seller, while providing the protection the individual buyer desires, is safe and worth their fee and then some. It takes more work. It requires thinking. You will be challenged. And it’s what we are licensed to do.

Are we more than drifting toward Fair Housing violation accusations? Is it time for  a national dialogue on the practice? I think we are, and it’s time to talk. What do you think?

 

 

It’s About the Net to Seller, Not the Price

There are always  gimmicks. Buyer markets gave us the Appraisal Contingency – Escape Clause, and the Buyer-Gets-the Last-Word Inspection Contingency. Seller markets spawned the Escalation Clause.  Insecurity morphed the Escalation Clause into a watered down, useless jumble of nonsense. (I’ll beat any offer price as long as I get to see the offer, and then I get to deduct a laundry list of expenses from the price, and maybe I will agree to amend our price, but I don’t have to pay this amount if the appraisal doesn’t match our price, and then….)

All of the gimmicks look like good ideas until you, ah well, look at them. People who hire smart real estate brokers as Buyer Agents get their Offers accepted by steering clear of the gimmicks. The savvy Realtor® out thinks the competition by seeing  knowing the objective of the Seller is really the Net to Seller, not the Price Offered. I believe the Wisconsin Offer to Purchase (Residential, the Condo Offer, and Vacant Lane Offer) are boiler plate forms where costs paid by Seller are pre-determined. To increase the Seller’s Net without increasing the price, financially capable Buyers will take on the Seller’s typical expenses (some may be tax deductible—see your accountant), and save themselves thousands of dollars in interest and higher property tax bills over the years of owning the home.

This weekend when you write your offer try this: Think like you are in cooperation with the Seller, not in competition. The Offer has at least 8 areas you can modify to improve the love your offer receives from the Seller…and none of them require sappy letters and photos of your kids. If you haven’t committed to a Realtor® yet, before you do, ask them what ideas they have to help you get your offer accepted. Commit to the professionals who know how to make the Offer work for you AND the Seller.

WB-14 Condominium Offer to Purchase

Providing condo documents and disclosures is the obligation of the seller. Receiving them and rescinding the Offer are the buyer’s rights. We as licensees are expected to protect those obligations and rights.

Real estate licensees are required to complete forms approved by the Real Estate Examining Board of the Department of Safety and Professional Services in a manner that accomplishes the intent of the parties (Wis. Admin. Code REEB 16.06(8)) and will ordinarily be expected to complete the form in a manner that results in an enforceable contract.   WI Real Estate Law, 2014 Edition, Contract Interpretation and Remedies 10-1.

Condominium law has it’s own Chapter in Wisconsin law. After quick review of Chapter 703 Condominiums there is no doubt that public policy favors the protection of buyers over sellers in Condominium sale transactions. The buyer’s right to rescind without any reason stated is assured. The obligation of the seller to provide an extensive list of existing and contemplated rules is clearly stated, and yet the list of those items is not clear. To make matters worse, the list is a mine field of confusion. (See page 4 0f 9 of the WB-14 lines 204-246.)

Licensees may make modifications to the procedure and items required for delivery, but we do so at some peril.To be safe, consider making NO changes to the procedure. Adding additional items from the list of additional items lines 235 to 246 can be done without touching the procedures of delivery and right to rescind.  The Offer to Purchase even includes a suggestion for how to add items without upsetting the process. This is what is suggested:

Using lines 174-188 or 514-519 of the WB-14, the licensee can add additional condo docs for the seller to provide. Something as simple as this will work: Condominium Disclosure Materials, lines 204 to 234 added to the list of items (a)  through (h) lines 208-218, seller shall also provide: Condo financial statements for the previous 2 years. The minutes of the previous 2 years of unit owner’s meetings. The minutes of the condo board meetings during the 12 months prior to acceptance of this Offer. AND SO ON AND SO ON….

PRACTICE CAUTION: The contract is clear. The seller has the obligation to provide what the parties agreed would be provided. If any documents don’t exist, a  seller might  be wise to not accept the offer. A  prudent listing agent, using section 703.33 for a check list will obtain all that is available and know at the time marketing begins, what items are not available. Disclosure of unavailable documents seems like a good idea.

By the terms of the contract, the buyer and seller agree to give NOTICE and make REQUESTS. The proper forms for a licensee to use for this communication are Notice Forms, and Amendments. There is no agreement in the WB-14 for the buyer agent and seller agent to converse by email, text, phone calls or any other method. If buyer fails to make a request for missing documents, the contingency could be deemed satisfied. If Seller fails to provide documents they agreed to provide, the buyer could rescind the offer. Licensees who help the buyer and seller operate within  the terms of the contract are meeting the expectations of their license. Those who take it upon themselves to call, send emails, texts may think they are being “friendly”. How placing the the buyer and seller at risk is friendly I don’t understand. The buyer and seller agreed that the “friendly” way involves buyer and seller signed Notices and Amendments.