Dealing With The Subsequently Unhappy Buyer

Written by Posted On Wednesday, 08 April 2015 11:18

Many, if not most, agents who have been in the business for a while are liable at one time or another to receive a call, an email, possibly even a letter, from a now-disgruntled buyer whom they represented in a transaction a while back. It might have been six months ago, perhaps even a year has passed. The point is, this is not one of those the-first-week-after-closing issues. It is something that has been simmering a while. Recurring leaks (pools, roofs) are a classic example. Frequently, some repair has turned out to be insufficient. And though it has been an annoyance to the buyer (who may have even tried to get things fixed), this could be the first the agent has heard about it.

If you receive one of those messages, how should you handle it? Is there a protocol or a standard to be followed? Or must one improvise? Some offices do have developed procedures for handling complaints of this and other sorts. Others, not so much. Moreover, there can be legitimate disagreements about what are "best practices" in this arena. Thus, I acknowledge that what follows doesn't come from some widely-acknowledged rule book. These are my thoughts. Others may disagree. I welcome the conversation.

First and foremost, don't keep the issue a secret. No, I don't mean you should share it with all your office colleagues; but for goodness' sake, let your broker or office manager know what is going on. No agent likes the idea of doing this; but, believe me, it will be appreciated. Your supervisor might have some suggestions for you. They might even want to become involved, or to turn it over to counsel. They need to be informed as soon as possible.

If your broker wants you to handle the situation, there are some things to keep in mind.

1. Remember, you are no longer the buyer's agent. The agency relationship, and its duties, ended when the object of the agency -- in this case, the acquisition of a property -- was accomplished. Sure, it is a good business practice to try to be helpful and accommodating; but, at this point, you have no agency obligations to this person. Being someone's "agent for life" makes a nice slogan, but no one should really want to do that. (I hope it's clear: I am NOT advocating that you ignore the person. Trying to help them is probably a very sensible thing to do. But it is not your job.)

2. Whatever the problem is, don't say you will take care of it or you will fix it. Those words can become very expensive. Offer to help, if you wish; but do not take responsibility.

3. The buyer may now have a version of events that doesn't square with your records and/or recollections. It's probably not going to be productive to get into a dispute with him or her. Though, if you have some document or record that is completely indisputable (e.g the date on the grant deed), you might want to share it. Mainly, do a lot of listening.

4. Do not become the buyer's strategic advisor. You can offer to help, but advising courses of action -- that might go south -- could come back to bite you.

5. Finally, make it clear that you will not be threatened, intimidated, or bullied. More than a few buyers who have become unhappy about something -- and sometimes their gripes are legitimate -- seem to think that the way to resolution is to threaten legal action. This does not make for good conversations.

Our policy has long been that if a party holds out the threat to sue, if they start to toss around the L(awyer) word, then, at that point, our conversations stop. Any further communication must go through our attorney -- which, of course, means that they will have to hire an attorney to talk to ours. Generally, this will give pause, and lead to a more conciliatory approach.

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Bob Hunt

Bob Hunt is a former director of the National Association of Realtors and is author of Ethics at Work and Real Estate the Ethical Way. A graduate of Princeton with a master's degree from UCLA in philosophy, Hunt has served as a U.S. Marine, Realtor association president in South Orange County, and director of the California Association of Realtors, and is an award-winning Realtor. Contact Bob at

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