Actually, I could just call this blog “Expectations.” Because in this story, there was nothing great about them. Allow me to explain…
Remember in my blog about Core Value #4 (Highly Accountable), I spoke about the importance of knowing when we (I) have messed up? And how critical it is for us (me) to say we’re (I’m) sorry and fix it? Those aren’t just words on a page my friends. Here’s a recent story about how I failed to set proper expectations, and what I did to make it right.
In the beginning
At first, everything went swell. A friendly acquaintance (let’s call her Ali) asked me to list her home and help her find one that was more suitable. She didn’t like how busy the streets had gotten in her current neighborhood, and she was afraid the property values would diminish due to the encroaching commercial business that were slowly popping up on her side of town. Her concerns were valid. Several other homeowners were obviously having the same thought, as three more properties joined the dozen listed homes in her neighborhood the same week I posted Ali’s place. “Be prepared for a quick sale or a 6 month wait,” I told her. With that many houses on the market in a small neighborhood, it was hard to say what her experience would be. Most of the homes already on the market had been on over 90 days.
In the meantime, Ali found her dream home. It was quiet, low maintenance, and carried little threat of being overtaken by big box retail and fast food joints. Now if we could just find her a buyer…
In two weeks, we had an offer just $1,000 off asking price. The buyer wanted three thousand dollars in closing costs, but nearly every buyer in this price range would be asking for the same thing. I knew the buyer’s agent, and she always does a great job of getting her ducks in a row before writing an offer. This deal was solid. I couldn’t wait to tell Ali the good news.
They want WHAT?
Ali, it turns out, was not nearly as thrilled as I thought she would be. She couldn’t believe the buyers had the gall to ask for so much. I was stunned. I explained to Ali that she would be netting more than what she expected to (we were prepared for an offer 5K off asking price), but that didn’t matter. She felt like she was giving up the world for these people. I hung up the phone and asked my husband, “Am I missing something here?” Wise and gentle as he is, it still stung when he said, “Did you tell her the net you figured assumed granting a closing cost concession? You should have.”
Dang it, he was right. I had told Ali that I thought we could reasonably expect a certain net, but I had not anticipated that she would care how we got there. She had owned several homes before, but her husband (from whom she is now divorced), had always handled everything regarding real estate. Ali was effectively a first time home seller, and I had failed to explain, in great detail, what I meant when I said we would likely sell her home within 5K of the asking price. She didn’t like the means, not matter what the end. Ruh roh.
A bird in the hand
I was finally able to get Ali to accept the offer, despite feeling like she was getting screwed. She understood that her net was even better than expected, but she just couldn’t get over paying for the buyer’s closing costs. But Ali was ready to move out of her neighborhood, and she ultimately decided a bird in the hand was better than two in the bush. Whew. Now I just need to get through inspections, and we’re good to go. What could possibly go wrong? The answer, it turns out, is LOTS.
They want WHAT (part 2)?
The inspector came and did his thing. My client had told me a zillion times that her brother fussed over her and the house, and it was in perfect condition. The reality is that inspectors ALWAYS find something the homeowner missed, didn’t know about, or thought was no big deal. The buyer’s inspector managed to find one thing in each category. But having just three minor repair requests is pretty good, considering most of the inspection responses I see require a “see attached” addendum. Not this one. Just three one-line small item repairs. Woo hoo!
What, no good?
Ali, again, surprised me. I sent the inspection response to her and said, “Good news! Just a few quick fixes and we’ll be on our way to the closing table!”
“No way,” she said. “Those people have already gotten all they are going to get from me. I’d rather sell it to someone else than let these people jerk me around.”
Um, sell it to who? With now three more houses in her neighborhood for sale, and none being sold in the last 14 days, it wasn’t looking good for any seller in that neighborhood.
“Just remember why you’re doing this, Ali,” I said. “You want to be out of this neighborhood. Are you saying that cleaning out the gutters and installing downspout diverters, repairing the broken gate, and fixing the broken window seal are not worth getting to your new home?”
The text back said, “Not for these a**holes.”
It was late in the evening, so I decided to let her sleep on it.
My husband poured me a glass of wine and said, “You didn’t tell her she’d probably have to do some repairs?” If he hadn’t had my glass of wine in his hand, I would have rolled me eyes at him. But I really wanted that wine…
A good night’s sleep
I was hoping a good night’s sleep would help Ali see things more clearly. It didn’t. She was ready to walk away from the deal, but I knew she would regret it if she did. She didn’t answer my texts the following morning, so I drove to her work. Not happy to see me, she said I only had 10 minutes.
“Tell me why this has been so frustrating for you?” I said.
“I feel like everyone is out to take my money. I had to pay $400 for my loan application yesterday, I have to pay $375 for my inspection on Saturday, I have to pay $3,000 in their closing costs, plus I’m paying for my own closing costs. None of this is fair, and I’m tired of getting screwed.”
“I’m really sorry you feel that way,” I said, “I wish this was a better experience for you. I should have been really clear about a few things that I obviously didn’t convey well. First, buying and selling real estate is an expensive proposition for everyone. The other people in this transaction are paying many of the same fees, and they are likely just as frustrated. For you, finding a buyer and home to move in to so quickly is a big benefit denied to many in this market. Trust me, many sellers and buyers would love to be in your shoes. Let’s focus on the good, remember why you’re doing all this, and keep your eye on the finish line. To help with the frustration, I’ll call the contractor and get estimates for the repairs. My husband has some downspout diverters in his warehouse that you can have and your brother can use our ladder to clean the gutters. I’m going to make this as bearable as I can for you. I’m sorry if I didn’t properly set your expectations.”
“Ok,” Ali mumbled.
“Ok?” I confirmed.
And they lived happily ever after.
Ali closed on her old house and bought her new one last week, but the process is one that I’ll not forget soon. I reminded my agents to assume nothing, intentionally and robustly set realistic expectations, and own their mistakes the minute they happen. While making things right cost me a few diverters from the warehouse, it gained me a happy seller/buyer. Ali apologized at closing for being difficult (her words). I told her that the PROCESS can be difficult, and I regretted not being a better setter of expectations. She cried when they handed her the keys to her new home, and I felt a tremendous sense of relief at her satisfaction. From now on, expectations will be a line item on my listing checklist!
Good luck out there!