Protect yourself and polish your reputation by knowing how to present information—and when refer a client to someone else for assistance.
Don’t position yourself as the primary source of information.
Your role as a real estate professional is to do what it takes to arrange and close deals—but that doesn’t mean you need to be the authoritative source for answers to every question that might come up. When a buyer asks questions such as how many finished square feet a home has, if it’s in a flood plain, what the school boundaries are, or when a new light rail line might open—in other words, anything you don’t know as a fact on your own—be sure to clearly provide the source of any information you provide in response, says Michael Baucum, a transactional real estate attorney in San Antonio, Texas.
So instead of just casting what you say as a fact, say, “According to,” or, “The appraisal document says,” or something similar, Baucum says. Those few extra words could help protect you if someone is unhappy later on with something you told them.
Be upfront about whom you’re working for.
Be sure to explain that your duty is to the seller before discussing a property with people who stop by an open house or contact you based on a sign or advertisement, advises Mike Hege, broker-in-charge at Pridemore Properties in Charlotte, N.C. Doing so could help prospective buyers avoid inadvertently breaching an agreement they may have with a buyer’s agent—and it could help prevent you from unwittingly entering a dual agency situation, too. Your best bet is to advise people who express interest in your listings to use their own agent, Hege says.
Never give tax advice.
Buyers and sellers might ply you with questions about the tax benefits and implications that relate to a home transaction, but your answer should always be the same: “Consult a tax professional,” says Jim Downing, a sales associate with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Properties Group in Clearwater, Fla. Even basic questions with what seem like obvious answers, such as whether mortgage interest is tax-deductible, could invite trouble, because no two people’s financial situations are identical.
Don’t interpret HOA rules or budgets for clients.
Your client has just decided to buy a condo and now has to dig through a thick stack of paper relating to the rules and finances of the building they want to move into. Explaining what the documents mean and helping your client decide if they’re acceptable might seem like an obvious way to demonstrate your value—but this is work best left to an attorney, Downing advises.
Keep a record of what you say.
Just as having a log of how many miles you drive and where you go can help you at tax time, maintaining an accurate record of what you discuss with clients can prove very useful if you have to recall what you said in the future. Mindful of the fact that he might need to reconstruct the details of a conversation long after it occurs, John Shipman, director of green operations for Coldwell Banker George Realty in Arcadia, Calif., makes a habit of writing down what he says in meetings, along with the date and time. “I’ve always been told by attorneys that if I said something but it’s not written down, it never happened,” Shipman says.
As a writer-producer for the National Association of REALTORS® based in Washington, Sam Silverstein develops articles and videos for NAR’s members and others interested in its activities, statistics and research.