In the weekend, I had an unpleasant experience with a real estate agent, and I just have to get it off my chest. Prepare for a rant.
My partner and I made a successful offer on a house on Saturday, and assuming tomorrow's building inspection goes OK, we'll have a new home in a few weeks. Nice for us, but perhaps not so nice for the elderly lady selling the house. The real estate agent who was supposed to be working for her sold her down the river at almost every opportunity.
First of all, as we were drafting our offer, the agent said 'I'm going to be a bit naughty'. She wrote an earlier, lower figure we'd mentioned on the offer form, crossed it out, then wrote our revised offer beside it. 'I know what old people are like', she said, and explained that the vendor would only be encouraged to ask for more money if we didn't do this. I sat uncomfortably silent - something I now feel a bit crappy about.
The rental home my family and I are living in has been sold, and we've got four weeks to get out. Because of this, I asked the agent to see if she could negotiate with the vendor to have the date of settlement brought forward. Off went the agent to talk to the vendor.
When the agent reappeared on our doorstep later that afternoon she said immediately, 'Before you look at this, I'll let you know that the vendor will accept your original offer'. At the prompting of her adult son, the vendor had made a counter offer, trying to push us up by five grand. The agent undercut this immediately, deciding that her own haste to finish work for the day was more important than the price her elderly client got for what is probably her only major asset.
At this stage, I was very uncomfortable. I asked the agent, 'What about the settlement date?'. The agent told us that the vendor had agreed to bring it forward to the date we'd proposed. I expressed my concern that the agent had pushed her into this. The agent said, 'Don't worry - I'll bundle her into my car first thing Monday and we'll drive around until I sell her a new house'. She added, 'And if she has to rent for a bit, that's OK'.
OK with whom? We're talking here about an elderly woman who had just had a surgery, and is leaving her home of more than three decades, in which she raised her family, because of health problems. I asked the agent twice more for an assurance that she wasn't pestering the vendor, and said that if someone had to rent or go homeless for a week, it should be us - not a frail elderly person. I got the response, 'You just get your building inspection sorted so we can finalise this and the vendor knows how much she's got to spend'. In short, the agent was about as interested in my concerns as she was in her client's welfare.
The problem with the real estate industry (or one of them, at least) is that agents seem to have no duty of fidelity to the people who engage their services. This agent cared only about the sale, and was happy to compromise her client's interests over and again to speed up the process. The agent was inducing the vendor to rush - making it likely that she'd buy a new house in a panic, also to the benefit of the agent.
I would guess that elderly women are particularly vulnerable to unethical real estate agents. Because women on average live longer than men, there are lots of elderly widows out there in sole possession of properties. As the phenomenon of elder abuse receives increased attention, it's becoming clearer that old people's children will also sometimes take advantage of them financially, pushing them into decisions about selling their homes.
The whole thing has left me with a bad taste. I feel like a bit of a loser for letting an aggressive real estate agent run over the top of me. When we conclude the deal, I'm going to stick a letter in the vendor's letterbox, assuring her that she doesn't need to leave her home urgently, and that we can be flexible about this. I may even write the real estate agency a letter telling them they suck. I've met some really nice real estate agents, but on the whole, the industry is so brutally competitive that it brings out the worst in people and rewards the unethical. Regulate the bejesus out it, I say.