Walking Like a Duck in Real Estate

DuckLet’s take a break.  Turn our attention away from immediate concerns – like rising interest rates and the FEDs move away from Quantitative Easing.  We’ll give those issues another few weeks to incubate.

Today,  let’s expend a little newsprint musing about more philosophical questions that arise while working in Real Estate.  Realtors, I just want to say, even on bad days, we should consider ourselves lucky to be in a profession that intimately involves us in the huge life transitions our clients go through.

Seeing real people wrestle with their trials and tribulations around marriage, divorce, birth, death, aging, sickness, success – all the “biggies”  that inevitably revolve around home sales/purchases gives us a chance to experience the good, the bad and the ironic of human nature.  It’s a gift and a golden opportunity to learn more about ourselves too.  Doesn’t get any better than that. What the hell else are we here for?

Where to start?  How about the Real Estate of Mind Email Bag?

I received this note from a colleague after a recent column suggesting Realtors would benefit from doing Pro Bono work on occasion.  Google Brezsny’s Real Estate of Mind to read it.

Hi Tom,  While I admire the spirit of your intentions in your article of June 8th, I think it’s important to remind agents that if you walk like a duck and quack like a duck, people can logically assume and litigate that you ARE a duck.  At least we should find out if our E&O insurance would cover us even though we don’t have a signed contract.  It’s complicated!    –   C

Complicated indeed C.   On so many levels.

Wouldn’t it be the ultimate “bummer”  to help someone buy or sell a house without charging for the service only to get sued for “talking them into” something they had a huge case of  “buyers remorse” over?  I guess it would give added meaning to the phrase: No good (grant) deed shall go unpunished.

In real estate we are constantly reminded that liability lurks right around every corner.  On every street. Through every door. Hidden in every closet.

We are warned ad infinitum ad nauseum not to give financial advice about the biggest financial move our clients will make. Not to give legal advice when their hands freeze up while signing a scary contract. Not to give insurance advice about the vagaries of homeowners insurance. Not to counsel them how to take title after they’ve lapsed into a vegetative state after reviewing 100s of pages of legalese and butt-protecting paper issued by the office of cosmic redundancy during their escrow sign-offs.

God forbid we should be accused of practicing Real Estate Therapy without a license after trying to coax someone off the ledge during one of their home buying or selling meltdowns.

There’s a much deeper thread in all of this.  All we can do is touch the surface here.

So what do Realtors do if they shouldn’t do any of the above?  Are Realtors simply salespeople?  Look up the word “sell” in Merriam-Websters. You’ll see things like:  To give up in violation of trust for personal gain. To exact a price. To foolishly give up in return for something. To deliver into slavery for money.  To impose on.

Apparently the word “sell”  derives some of its origin from the Greek word “helein” which means “to take.”

Those aren’t the first notions that come to my mind when I think about what I do for a living.  But then, real estate exists in the larger context of what’s called our “consumer culture”.   Just for kicks, google the word consume on the Visual Thesaurus. Note its Jeckyl & Hyde personality. On one hand consume means ingest, take in, engage.  On the other it means destroy, use up, deplete.

Which returns us to the subject of pro bono.  Is it possible to figure out a way in Real Estate to give generously without getting sued? There’s always the “safe” type of giving that involves doing something nice in order to generate a publicity photo and a press release that encourages people to do more business with you.  I certainly don’t want to pooh-pooh giving with expectation.  It’s way better than not giving at all.

But giving with expectation seems more like lending than giving. It’s really predicated on getting paid back by someone or something else.  And wouldn’t real pro bono giving that’s really good for the soul be without any expectation of return?

I’m just hoping that someday I can walk like a duck and quack like a duck without having to worry about ducking and covering my ass.
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