Real Estate Stress Syndrome

 Posted by at 3:05 pm
Jan 272010

I wish I’d been the one to coin this… and, unfortunately, when I wrote my note about it I failed to credit the source. So now I have to start with anonymous realtor who observed that he’s had several buyers walk in to his office with P.T.S.D. or “Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.” His diagnosis was based on their demeanor which included an opening apology for a suspected personality disorder based on their previous realtor relationship. He cited examples of buyers saying they “must be too picky” or “too nervous” or have “unrealistic expectations” of their agent. (You don’t suppose the agent had any unrealistic expectations of the client, do you?)

If it weren’t so tragic, it would be funny. I’ve seen the same thing with sellers–now “former” clients of another agent who are convinced somehow that they are responsible for everything that went wrong with the last relationship and attempted transaction. Convincing clients they are to blame for failings is a skill I seem unable to develop, let alone understand. I’m supposed to be protecting and advising my client, aren’t I?

The media is, as many of us know, an interesting entity. Stories develop themes and the themes get picked up quickly. One theme that’s increasing on a number of real estate web sites and publications is the idea of “raising the bar” or increasing the entry standards for new agents. I’m not sure I’ll be able to resist editorializing about that much longer. I would only say here that new agents are not the only agents who are creating P.T.S.D.

So let’s simplify a bit the relationship and “blame” issue. (After I simplify it, I may feel a need to complicate it in a future post.) In the State of Maine a client relationship must be defined in writing. One of the reasons for this is to remove as much doubt and vagueness as possible. A good written agreement will include fairly detailed statements of what both parties will do and not do.

I recently worked with a seller who was upset over several things that happened and didn’t happen during the previous listing experience. When these sorts of issues arise I’m always tempted to ask “was that a violation of the agreement you signed?” The point of the question is not to delve into legalities. But when a seller apologizes for “expecting too much” I’m tempted to ask them to get the old contract out and look for the portion that says “Seller shall not expect too much.”

Of course I am having some fun with this, but I’m also not. If I could achieve one thing in the real estate industry with the wave of a magic wand it might be simply that people read and understand the documents being signed. Remember, an important point of an agreement is to remove doubt and establish clarity. Yes, it is a contract–but what is a contract other than an agreement. Ideally, we discuss and fundamentally agree on what might constitute “too much” and “too picky.” But it’s not just a matter of agreeing at signing. Some of these issues require continued discussion. We don’t sign an agreement, breathe a sigh of relief and think, “Phew, that’s over.” Or at least that’s not how I think it works.

I remember one nervous client. She might have had PRE traumatic stress syndrome. We didn’t (nor did the contract) outlaw her nervousness–it was actually somewhat justified since this was her first major real estate purchase. We did, however, agree that she was not allowed to panic until after she talked to me. I think that’s called “working together.” I’m pleased to report that she’s a happy property owner and I’m not aware of any POST traumatic stress syndrome.

So before you decide that you bear all the responsibility read and understand your agreement. Simple, maybe not easy.