| Family Diary |

Close to Home: Chapter 13   

       When it comes to money, there can be a vast chasm between what people believe and what they actually do


Nechama Norman with Batsheva Berman


t’s painful to admit this, but there’s a reason people sometimes lump real estate agents together with smarmy used car salesmen. Every agent is under intense pressure to get exclusive listings, and there are tricks some agents play to get those listings.

Some dangle a guarantee. “If you list your house with me, I’ll give you a guarantee that it will sell.” Sellers often leap at this offer — it sounds like a dream. What these agents don’t share is what’s in the fine print: If they don’t find a client at the asking price, they’ll sell the home for far below market value. And once you consider that anyone can sell a home below market value, the agent’s guarantee is a lot of hot air.

Another trick is the nonexistent “cash buyer.” Some agents will knock on doors and say, “I have a cash buyer who wants to see your home. Can I look around quickly first to see what it’s like?” In reality, there’s no cash buyer; they just want to get in the door and build a rapport with a potential seller. But what kind of relationship is it if it’s built on untruths?

Honesty is the best policy. As Torah Jews, we firmly believe that. Yet sometimes, when it comes to money, there can be a vast chasm between what people believe and what they actually do.

When you sell your house, there’s a list of disclosures you need to make. These include the age of your roof, the age of the furnace, and other important details. A fellow real estate agent helped a client sell his home, and, unbeknownst to her, her client lied in the disclosure form, stating that his roof had been put on in 2008.

Shortly after the new owners moved in, they had trouble with the roof. A roofer was able to ascertain that the roof had been put on in 1998. The new owners are now suing the seller.

The truth can hurt, but it’s crucial. I’m committed to being upfront. “This roof is original, and you’ll probably have to replace it within the next few years,” I may say. “If that’s too overwhelming for you, don’t buy this house.”  No one likes to lose a sale, but far better to lose a sale than to sell under false pretenses.

Recently, I was working with the Snyders. They live in Minneapolis, and were moving to Lakewood, but knew nothing about the local market.  I guided their process, letting them know what they could realistically expect.

A few weeks ago, they saw a large colonial house that they fell in love with. They made a very generous offer. Then we did a home inspection. The inspector informed us that there were several active leaks, and water was seeping into the house. The seller stoutly denied it. I pointed out to the Snyders that we clearly weren’t dealing with honest people, and it may not be wise to work with them. Ayala Snyder kept speaking about the wrap-around porch and the airy kitchen, but eventually she realized that no feature outweighs a dishonest seller, and they withdrew their offer.

The Blackers had been looking for a home for a while, so one Thursday, when they found a home that had all the features they wanted, they asked me to put in an offer the very next day. The seller accepted.

On Motzaei Shabbos, I got a call from Riley, the seller’s agent. “Sorry to tell ya this,” she drawled, “but there was another showing on Saturday, and the Palmers got a higher offer. Looks like they’re going to accept it, unless your client can match it.”

I sighed. This was a lousy development, but it does happen. I called the Blackers, and they grudgingly agreed to up their offer. The updated offer was accepted, and we moved into attorney review.

Two days later, Malkie, another agent in town, called me. “I saw that your client is buying the Palmers’ house,” she said with no preamble. “You know my client had already made an offer on the house that was accepted, right?” Her voice was tight. “It’s so not like you to do this. Why would you knock me out of review?”

“Wait, what?” I was astounded. “I had no idea anyone had even seen the house.”

It took a while, but we figured out what had happened. Malkie’s clients, the Greenbergs, had put in an offer on Thursday. Riley had said nothing to us when we came to see the house and accepted our higher offer. She then went back to Malkie and asked her to beat our offer. The Greenbergs’ new offer was the one Riley dangled in front of us while speaking of a “Saturday showing.” She had pitted us again each other to keep hiking up the price.

I updated the Blackers, and they felt terrible. The two couples decided to discuss the issue with a rav. The next night, we had a conference call with Malkie, the Greenbergs, the Blackers, myself, and a rav we all respected. He asked what would happen if we called the agent’s bluff. We all agreed that Riley would probably be so angry, she’d ensure neither family got the house. She’d already told us that her client didn’t want to sell to the people who made the original offer. The psak was that even though it rightfully should go to the Greenbergs, once all this had transpired, it was the Blackers who could move forward with the sale.

The Garzas were moving down south, and I sold their home. The day we closed, they were on a Caribbean cruise they’d booked months before. The title company, who processes the funds, sent me my commission check.

A few days later, the check arrived — and when I saw the sum, I gasped. It was for nearly $4,000 more than we were owed, clearly a mistake. We calculated what it should have been and called the company. They brushed us off, telling us the check was covered, and we could just keep it. There was no way I’d do that.

We called the Garzas, but they didn’t pick up because they were in middle of the Caribbean. We emailed, letting them know we needed to reach them ASAP. They called, and we updated them. They said that with all the money being spent on their vacation, they probably never would have noticed the discrepancy; they were so grateful we were honest. And the very next day, they sent us a referral.

Being honest is always worth it. Sometimes you get to see it in This World too.

to be continued…

*All names and details have been changed


Nechama “Nicky” Norman is a licensed real estate agent servicing greater Lakewood, New Jersey. She focuses on residential property and loves to educate people about buying and selling by hosting seller events.


Keyed In

If you’re not sure your agent is being entirely straightforward, once you make an offer, ask for a signed acknowledgment from the seller that the offer was seen.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 811)

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