Friday, April 18, 2008

Being in the Best Interest of Self

Here comes a rather obvious question: have you ever been irate about bad customer service when all you want to do is buy a product? Have you ever been incensed by poor treatment when a simple apology would have alleviated your anger? When corporations or customer service reps would just own up to their mistakes or apologize for our troubles, it is so much easier to let it slide. It also easier to let some things slide when your best interest is at risk. When I'm particularly annoyed about a thing, I can't tell you how those three little words, I am sorry, can resolve a great many issues or at the least the potential for bad feelings. Not that the problem would be fixed immediately, but it does calm a live nerve and the despondent can move forward in relative peace, perhaps even moving forward with purchasing the product. But when an apology isn't offered, when you are made to feel that their problem is yours, what then?

Just the other day I longed for those three words but was simply not going to hear them. Instead, I had to talk to myself repeatedly on the virtues of understanding and the necessity of what is my best interest here. I was successful with the latter, but not particularly the former. I came across a house for sale the other day and called on it. The well-known listing agent has 200 or something houses in this terrible market in Michigan and had to contract the showings out to other buyer’s agent, not being able to show so many houses. Because my partner and I want the option of working directly with the listing agent to perhaps get the best deal (their commission would be 6% for dual agency instead of 3%) and ascertain the best knowledge of the house, we had not signed an exclusive agency with no one particular agent.

Well, I called this top producing listing agent and was told to call Eleanor, her buyer's agent. I made my dutiful call to the agent who promptly wanted to get all of my "information" as if I had already seen the house and wanted to purchase it that very second. (I was already a little miffed by not being able to speak with the listing agent, as my whole idea was to have her sell me the house directly.) I halted Eleanor in mid stream, telling her that I had not seen the house yet and the information requested was premature. She went on to tell me that she had to get this information before showing the house to find out whether I was a serious buyer and if it was worth her trip to show it to me. What? This put me in a rather foul mood immediately.

Trying to alleviate her concerns, I told her that my partner and I (in our side business) had just recently bought a house for cash and had just yesterday put in three cash offers. This did not move her at all. She continued bombarding me questions and telling me about the price of gas and that she could not "risk" coming out and showing me the house without the requested information. She wanted everything except my bank account card with pin for immediate withdrawal and my social security number to check my FICA scores. She herself was acting in a dual role as agent and mortgage broker. But I didn't need a mortgage!

I tried to reason with the buyer's agent because I really wanted the house, telling her that while I appreciated her time and understood the high gas prices, as a buyer, I needed to see the house before giving such information. (It would not have even been wise to give this woman whom I've never met the requested information.) She proceeded to go on and on about the necessity of the information and continued with the now all to familiar line about the price of gas and her invaluable time, now wasted in about a 15 minutes of unnecessary conversation. Has it gotten this bad for agents out there? Perhaps so, but the more reason to hustle, the more reason to be amenable. I tried to be reasonable, but I was incensed. In fact, I was quite irate. I did manage, however, to hold to a certain amount of dignity. I continued trying to reason with her but instead was rebuffed with her own agenda. I then lost my cool.

Angrily, I informed her that I would call the listing agent to request a showing. She quickly retorted that there was no way she could even show me the house, seeing that she has so many. Before hanging up she said, "Ms. S will never show you that house and it's obvious you're not a serious buyers." Had I not told her that I just purchased one house recently and that I had just put in three offers the day before? As she hung up the phone she fumed, "what a bitch!" I could not believe my ears. All I wanted to do was to call the listing agent, have her or someone from her office show me the house, and put a cash offer to purchase it...IF I liked what I saw. But this was apparently too much to ask. This listing agent had to contract buyers agents who had to first find out where I worked, if I had a certain amount of money in my account, and whether I was really in the market to buy a home all before showing the house. Maddening! Did I not initiate the call?

I phone the listing agent back to tell her of my dismal experience and got her assistance. She was no better. I relayed the experience to the assistant and asked if the listing agent could call me back. I could hear the agent in the background wheeling and dealing before being placed on hold. I was on hold for about 10 minutes or so before the assistant came back informing me that the listing agent could not accept my call momentarily and that it is up to the buyer's agent how she handles her business. “With whom is the house listed,” I shot back? “And is your boss best representing her clients,” I continued? The response: "we have over 200 homes and there is no way that Ms. S can show every house and address every complaint." I was livid. "Does she not care about her business or her contracted buyer's agents showing her houses," I asked? "Does the Century 21 not care about how they are being represented in this buyer's market?" The assistant responded, "how the buyer's agent handles her business is not our business. You could see the house with your agent if you'd like and you can make a formal complaint with our broker."

It was apparent that Ms. S and her staff could care less if I bought that house, or seemingly the other 20 that I am in the market to buy. She has 200 others and whether I bought this one or 20 others seemed irrelevant. She was undoubtedly didn't need my money and seemed impervious to my concern. I appeared rather insignificant. This was not a good feeling. There has been two days since I made this call and I am still determining if I would even make a call to the manager of Century 21. It would probably do no good at all. They would undoubtedly care more about their top producer than one person who is, by the way, in the market to purchase quite a few homes beyond the 20 that I told them of without a mortgage. (And since banks are having such a liquidity problem, we thought our money would be good there...obviously not, at least in the view of these agents.) Having been so blatantly disregarded by the listing agent, her buyer’s agent and her assistant, the broker would undoubtedly be unmoved too. I was very angry.

Had the listing agent simply gotten on the phone, had another buyer's agent phone me, or called me back to apologize the matter would have been resolved quickly. I thought that I would deal directly with the listing agent, apparently in this case, this was not good. I did go and see the house yesterday with a broker friend. I waited a day to calm down and reason with myself. Had it not been in my best interest, I would have vowed to never deal with this listing agent or Century 21 ever again. But it was not in my best interest as I saw it and did the next best thing: I put in an offer with a broker friend to purchase the house. Maybe our best interest is the problem. Maybe nothing will change if we always thinking of our best interest. I'm sure this has happened to others but because it was not in their best interest, handled it as I did, not dealing with the issue itself. I guess there is also the most important issue of choosing your battles. The battle I chose was not to release any of my personal information to the broker, but chose not to battle with the listing agent or her broker, Century 21.

How would you have handled this situation? Is acting in our best interest a cumulative problem?


John O'Leary said...

Judith, I'm in awe of your productivity! I check in every now and then and it seems like you've written a few books.

Your post reminds me of the telephone operators (AT&T?) I used to complain to years ago, whenever I had connection problems. They would *ALWAYS* say, "I'm sorry you're having this problem" with such regularity I knew it was policy. But it didn't matter that it was scripted. It always made a difference and my annoyance quickly vanished.

judith ellis said...

John...It never ceases to amaze me why people would just rather talk than do! Her self-imposed safety net was in fact strangling her.

This woman would have greatly benefited from actually handling me appropriately instead of telling me about HER problems. I was, in fact, the very solution to her gas problem. I was also she who could haven contributed to her cause of doing work that matters, if she would have given me what I wanted which was simply to see the house. Was that to much to ask a real estate agent? Unreal!

Here was an entreprenuer, as all real estate agents are, who didn't appear to be following a script so much as she wanted me to respond to her as she would have liked in order for her to do what she needed to do. Myself as customer meant very little to her. She was fixated on not going out to show a house unless she knew she had it FIRST in the bag. By the way, I tried to ease her concerns by telling her I had cash to purchase at least 20+ houses. Her response: I've heard that one before. Unbelievable!

Well, I was a Top Producer in my office when I sold real estate while in school and I NEVER looked at customers the way she looked at me. There was a pre-approval process but it did not come on the phone while I was dealing with the client for the first time. Perhaps, this is why I was a Top Producer. I can't imagine her being a such a producer.

Another distressing thing for me was the way the listing agent's assistant handled me on the phone. She was obviously not trained properly. The listing agent was o INDEED a Top Producer, having some 200 homes. Like the buyer's agent she contracted, she didn't seem to care whether I would buy this home or the other 20+ I am in the market to buy. And from the looks of things, they could have cared less if I called and made a formal complaint to their broker. Maddening!

I wondered if my not making a formal complaint to the broker was the best thing to do, as I clearly, above everything else, wanted this house. But I also wondered if my action and probably the actions of many others is part of the problem. If we collectively looked only after our own best interest, does this add to the overall problem of dereliction of duty, the lack of proper customer service, the total disregard for the customer? I know it's rough out their but this was ridiculous!

Thanks for checking in, John. Whatever I do I tend to do it with great passion and one thing leads to another and another and another. A passionless compassionless listless tepid life is not really worth living to me. I am one who believes in many opitons. However, this is one in which I do not have an option. Give me passion, coupled with wisdom and understanding, at all cost!

And...yes...John...a simple "I'm sorry you're having this problem" by anyone with whom I was dealing would have made a world of difference. Because you have said these words, though not to me, somehow they make the difference.

All the very best, John.