Midday Matinee is our people watching, people doing and people being feature. Join the Woodland Creatures for an afternoon break.

Since my eldest son is visiting from out of town, I’ve been spending more than an ordinary amount of time at the local coffee shop. Ordinary for me is running in to buy my coffee beans. Ordinary for him is stopping off until he’s fully loaded on his highly caffeinated tea. That means spending some time there.

In the process, I’ve heard some really interesting conversations.

A man right behind me sat talking to his friends about how he’d found a beautiful ring on his front lawn. He took it to a jeweler to make sure it wasn’t just junk he should toss and the jeweler promptly offered him $1000 for it. Definitely not junk. But he didn’t sell it. Instead he told the jeweler, “This ring is important to someone. I want to get it back to them. If anyone stops by enquiring, give them my phone number.”

Instead the jeweler posted some signs. The man has received dozens of phone calls, but none of the callers could describe the ring, so he put it in his safe deposit box. He said to his friends, “It’s engraved. It means something important to someone so I’ll put an ad in the paper and hope they see it.”

That brought a huge smile to my face. There are definitely good people out there.

But the next conversation I heard left me feeling very different. A real estate agent was talking to an older couple about the two houses they were interested in buying. Now, I used to sell real estate, so I half-listened to her pitch. Then I got almost mad enough to intervene.

The agent used this line: “The house that needs all the work will give you slightly more square footage for your price, and since you say you can do all the work yourself, that won’t be a problem, will it?”

Okay, that was legitimate. What came next was not.

“I can’t tell you how long it might take to get an answer on the other house. It could be weeks. But since I’m in direct contact with the seller of the house that needs work, I can promise you an answer in just a couple of days.”

That’s when my fuse lit. What this agent was not saying, and should be required by law to disclose (it was when I practiced in Colorado) was that the second house, the one where she had direct contact with the seller, was her listing. Which meant she was representing the seller and going to get both sides of the commission. So she had bigger financial interest in selling that house, as compared to houses listed by other selling agents. What’s more, by law her first duty was to the seller with whom she already had a contract.

Additionally, that stuff about taking weeks to get an answer from the seller she didn’t represent? Hogwash. Offers must be presented by law within a certain time frame – for me it was 24 hours- and the seller’s agent on that other house wouldn’t have taken “weeks” to present it and get an answer. Regardless of any law or lack thereof, any agent who wants to sell a house isn’t going to take “weeks” to present an offer. Nor is any seller going to dawdle that long because it’s a good way to lose a sale.

I was disgusted by the tactic, and annoyed by the attempt to misdirect by using the phrase “direct contact” while avoiding letting the buyers know that she literally had a conflict of interest in helping them choose. It may be legal to have that conflict, but a buyer should always be informed of it.

Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware. It’s a lousy excuse for lousy ethics.

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