I thought the headline above would get your attention. Basically, the quickest way to get sued is to utterly ignore this article.
I have been selling real estate full-time in the Austin area for almost 11 years now, and I am happy and thankful to report that I have yet to be involved in a lawsuit or a mediation for my transactions, or for the sales of those who work with my company (currently about 15 agents).
That being said, there are a few tips that I wanted to share about how to keep yourself out of hot water in the legal arena. DISCLAIMER: I am not an attorney, hence I am not giving legal advice here, nor am I qualified to do so. This is just my opinion and nothing further. I thought I should get that out of the way quickly, because of our current litigious society.
With that in mind, I would like to give you an acronym which may come in handy if a client ever calls you with a concern which could result in a lawsuit. I have one such scenario brewing right now, and although it is not at all directed at me (undisclosed repair issues from the seller), it is taking up some of my time as I try to help. I was thinking about how to best handle these situations, and I realized that there are a few supportive actions that I always try to take.
The acronym in this case is "CARE", although I am not sure if the letters are really in priority order. Here are the individual elements:
- Remain CALM
- Be AVAILABLE
- Be a RESOURCE
- Show EMPATHY
Having a CALM demeanor will often defuse a problem before it reaches legal action. If there is something truly wrong, this is certainly not the case, but being pleasant and relaxed helps keep things professional and as smooth as possible. In fact, the ability to remain calm in the face of a problem is perhaps the hallmark of a great agent, no matter where in the process you are (negotiations, inspection items, etc.).
Being AVAILABLE is pretty self-explanatory, but it warrants mentioning. If you get a phone call from a client who says that their septic system is backing up into the house, or they may have mold issues from a long-standing leak, it is pretty important to get back with them. One time, I accepted responsibility for not getting a septic system inspected, because there was so much going on that I honestly forgot to help my buyers arrange for this. People always appreciate honesty. Always.
As a RESOURCE, you are often the first person that your past client will call or email if there is a problem with their property. As such, you should be prepared to direct them accordingly. In some cases, this simply involves giving them the information on their warranty or a qualified repair person. In other more extreme cases, it may mean counseling them to contact an attorney (not pleasant, but occasionally necessary). I have only had to do the latter a couple of times, but I was glad to help. Primarily, I guess my advice is not to avoid the problem, as that will make it worse for you, I promise. Return the call, even if it seems scary.
Demonstrating appropriate EMPATHY is critical if problems arise. Sometimes, clients just want to use us as sounding boards for issues that they are dealing with. Keeping that in mind, try to put yourself in their shoes for a few minutes as you are talking. If you can successfully imagine yourself in their situation, you will probably be more effective in assisting them. I am not recommending that you become a therapist (although I have had my share of those conversations as well), but I do think it's important for them to understand that I seriously care.
So, I hope that this acronym I created doesn't feel forced, since these really are the primary elements involved. I also hope you found this helpful, and I hope that you are able to apply it in your business.
Thanks so much for reading!