Service of the [Very] Good, the [Extremely] Bad and the Ugly: A Real Estate Tale

March 2nd, 2015

Categories: Customer Care, Customer Service, Real Estate, Uncategorized

We recently worked with two New York City-based real estate agents. Rating their performances from one to 10 they represented the top and bottom of the spectrum. One agent, Linda Gawley, Managing Director, Charles H. Greenthal Management & Residential Sales, spent hours mopping up the mess left by the other who was careless and disrespectful of both our agent’s time and of us.

Her aggressive lack of participation was clearly a cause for kudos by the agency she works for. Make money by doing and spending nothing? Congrats! That’s the crystal message we got from the executive at the major New York real estate company who responded to our complaint letter.

In our letter we asked that this agency refund the fee. We heard that it’s not a practice for one agency to pay another in such an instance so we offered the option to return the money to us. Their answer: “No.”

The agent lived in her client’s condo apartment and was leaving. We wanted to sublet it and to do so we needed approval of the apartment owner and the building’s board of directors. Following is an abbreviated list of her elementary mistakes that jeopardized our move-in date and caused us inordinate stress.

Our agent remained calm and courteous even when snapped at. We knew something was up when Ms. Gawley questioned the spelling of the apartment owner’s name on the lease. It was an unusual interpretation of a French name. [My father was French so I noticed it.] “It’s correct,” barked Ms. ___ during a conference call we were in on. In fact, it was incorrect, so our certified deposit checks were inaccurate as well. This kind of sloppiness followed and tripped us up throughout the process.

The  apartment’s owner–Ms. ____’s client–wanted to meet us across the street from her office/apartment. She wasn’t free so Ms. Gawley squeezed in the appointment to her schedule. Ms. ___ had not given her client a copy of the lease we signed nor had she warned Ms. Gawley to bring one so when he asked for one, Ms. Gawley appeared unprepared—something she never is.

Because of delays caused by Ms. ___’s carelessness on February 1 we did not know whether we would have access to the apartment or if we had been approved by the building’s board of directors and therefore, whether the movers would be allowed in the building on Monday February 2.

Our board package was not submitted promptly because Ms. ___ hadn’t counseled her client to sign either the standard lead paint or child guard disclosure forms, discovered at the final hour. In the response, the real estate executive did not refer to this glitch.

She brought up another one. She wrote: “Unfortunately, we encountered a big snag at this point which caused us a delay. Upon review, the managing agent discovered that the owner of the apartment was not carrying the proper insurance. This is highly unusual, because it’s imperative for all owners to have valid insurance at all times, so of course it was completely unknown to Ms. ____. This is the purview of the managing agent, not the listing agent, and it would not be in Ms. ___’ typical scope to verify the insurance.” I underlined the words “typical scope” because I thought they were clever. What is her scope? How seasoned an agent was she?  Since she lived in the same place for a period of time, was she there legally?

We wanted to know where we would be living in the city [our weekend home requires a five hour commute round trip] but that was only the half of it. Should we cancel the movers [who had already stored our belongings for a week] and Verizon/Fios, which we ordered for move-in day so we might be connected to the world? What about business appointments  later that week–would we be free to make them or would we be waiting for the movers?

In the agency’s response, the executive wrote: “On the 30th, Ms. ____ received verbal confirmation from the Board President that the waiver had been signed, which she immediately relayed to your agent.  Did your agent not relay that information to you?”

Given Ms. ____’s slipshod track record, and the fact that the building’s managing agent couldn’t verify the information, Ms. Gawley wasn’t about to suggest that our movers park outside the building first thing Monday February 2 until she knew for sure they would be allowed in. She asked that we delay the movers to Monday afternoon. They lost a morning of work and had to leave [house rules] before they were done. When the Fios technician came he didn’t have our computer, phones and TV to connect them causing costly repercussions for us.

“Broom clean,” was not the way Ms. ___ left the apartment. Illustrative of her modus operandi see the photos at right and below left of just some of the things we found. They don’t capture the dirty towel on the bathroom floor and filled coffee cups and water bottles. In her letter the executive wrote, “she apologizes that her movers left a few items behind.” 

Ms. ____ had told us she was moving a few blocks away as well as to Connecticut but obviously didn’t relay the former info to her employer who claimed that from Connecticut she couldn’t have conveniently checked how the movers left the apartment. Funny: We’d just moved out of a city apartment followed by a two hour drive upstate in a blizzard and left not a spec of dust behind much less garbage bags worth of stuff.

411 stuff left behindThat Ms. ___was snarky and never apologized to us for her [in]actions was as grievous to me as the time she stole from Ms. Gawley and the stress she caused us. I also had a bad reaction to the patronizing tone of the executive’s letter, i.e. “Moving is always stressful.”  Between us my husband and I have moved some 50 times, sometimes across oceans, into property we’ve rented or owned, yet neither of us has experienced a move as bad as this.

I am tempted to write “The Haggler” in The New York Times’ Sunday Business Section but I want the episode behind me. If you need a great agent to buy or sell property I’ll put you in touch with Linda Gawley. Bad agents work all over, not just in NYC—I’ve hired and heard about lousy ones. Haven’t you?

Does someone in a service business–like real estate agent, PR or advertising exec–owe counseling to their clients or has it become yet another area where the client is expected to know everything and to get zero guidance and direction from the specialist?

Tags: ,

16 Responses to “Service of the [Very] Good, the [Extremely] Bad and the Ugly: A Real Estate Tale”

  1. ASK Said:

    NYC agents are a breed unto themselves. I remember renting our first apartment on the Upper East Side in the late ’60s. (I had a roommate, we were just out of college.) The agent rented us an apartment that he was not entitled to rent to us. We found out after all the papers were signed, and the building’s manager threatened to hold up the deal. I complained about the agent to the Better Business Bureau in writing. He called a few days later and offered us half of the fee back!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK,

    It’s not just a NYC thing and as I wrote in my post, Linda Gawley is a happy exception and I have dealt with other skilled, honorable agents in NYC who have guided us well and have earned their fees.

    Here’s a non NYC story: A friend’s bid for a home in upstate NY was accepted and she paid an inspector a tidy sum to check out the house when she learned that someone else was buying the house for not much more than her bid–she would have bested it–and that they’d signed a contract and were off and running.

    Seems her agent didn’t want to share the fee with my friend’s agent so she didn’t let my friend know about the subsequent bid. My friend was furious and wanted to report the woman to a real estate board of some kind in Albany. She was told that there wasn’t anything effective that she could do.

  3. ASK Said:

    Unbelievable chicanery, but not too surprising…

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK,

    No industry is immune to such behavior–I’ve known sleazes in PR. It just irks me when a person is rewarded for such conduct.

  5. Nancy Farrell Said:

    The worst agents are those who cause so much damage that they risk wrecking the deals. I put in an offer on a house in a bad market and the agent said he would present the offer but that the seller might want to continue showing the house. I told him that I could say the same thing. That I will buy this house unless something better comes along and that I knew there were houses in a nearby city for a lot less than I was offering for this one. He quieted down after that and the deal went through. During another transaction, the seller’s agent informed me that I didn’t need to know the square footage of the house. My offer had been accepted and that’s all I needed to know. I reminded her that the contract stipulated that I needed financing and that the bank wouldn’t approve a loan without insurance and the insurance company needed to know how big the house is. I sent word that the phrase “deal breaker” was coming to mind. I had the square footage the next day. I had terrific agents representing me, though, so I kept my cool throughout the process and will definitely consider hiring them when it is time to sell. I know who to steer clear of, too.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Nancy,

    I once worked for a PR agency [for a very short time] that I discovered was built on the premise, “There’s a fool born every day.” His goal was to get a fee for a few months and so what if the staff got nothing done because he’d lied about out of pocket estimates i.e. “It shouldn’t cost you more than $1,000 to give a press event,” or he’d forget to mention we needed professional photography of products/installations before reaching out to media.

    So why shouldn’t appalling real estate agents work with that saying on their walls and in their hearts? It’s a shame as both give everyone else in their industry a bad name.

  7. Retired NYC Landlord Said:

    It is the nature of New York City that the only God worshiped there is the almighty dollar.

    That goes not only for most of the landlords, but also for many of the tenants, who are just as much out to screw you as your crummy real estate agent was.

    Incidentally, your Linda Gawley sounds very much like a rare exception to the rule. My long suffering lawyer despised what he described as “the bag ladies,” ie: the brokers, who showed up at closings hypocritically making “nice, nice,” but really just to collect their commissions. (He hated his job and stayed in the field just because of the money which was excellent.) A good many of the lawyers, including mine thankfully to a lesser extent, were “bent.” Then there were the contractors and suppliers, all also out to make a buck, not to speak of the NYC Buildings Department, a cross between incompetence, indolence and corruption, and those housing court judges who would never, ever give a landlord a break.

    Speaking of tenants, the way I survived in the business was to “profile.” You supposedly are not allowed to, but you can’t avoid it if you want to survive. I tried never to rent to lawyers and doctors, especially shrinks, which was hard to do. Many of them read the fine print, and found legitimate ways to do you out of your hard earned rent. Most, but by no means all, third world diplomats were nothing but trouble. Strangely, some were immaculate payers and housekeepers, but you had to know which countries they came from. Gays often spelled trouble, but many did not. You again had to know which were which. I never rented to an Indian and did not live to regret it. Curiously, how much money, or how good a job, a prospective tenant had, often as not, was no guide to whether you would have trouble with him or her.

    I’ll admit I wasn’t very good at the job. I didn’t have a “killer” instinct a good landlord needs to make it in New York. I was really grateful when Social Security finally kicked in so I could retire to “God’s Country” where everybody isn’t out to cheat you all the time. I may be poor, but I don’t need too much to live on, and there isn’t that stench in this place.

    Do I miss New York? Heaven’s No!

  8. Nancy Farrell Said:

    Jeanne: I think you get as good as you give. What you describe might have worked short term but is that firm still in business? And couldn’t it have thrived had it been run properly? And does anyone really want to be known for doing a bad job? The bad agents I described will never have my business. No amount of cuts in their commission or listing my house too high to flatter me is going to change my mind. When I was selling my house upstate, one person told me how she was going to advertise my house in New York City newspapers. I told her that my house was a starter house not a weekend retreat and that we needed to look for buyers locally. I had a feeling every potential client got the same pitch. In the end, she didn’t get the listing and the house sold to a local family. The good agents will get my referrals and my business and that might help them when they need it the most (when the market is down). I’ve had agents tell me that 90 percent of their business is based on referrals. Good for them!

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Oh my, Retired Landlord,

    I think that the real estate business–whether you are a landlord, an agent, an investor, a lawyer–can be tough wherever you live. It’s a little like the fashion business in that regard. And as a landlord you had a bad experience with someone from one or another professions or nationalities you noted but I feel badly for the exceptions as where can they live–even in God’s country?

    In fact, there are creepy people even there though if you’re lucky you won’t meet them. The first few years I owned a house upstate I fell for every trick pulled on me and was robbed of $thousands and $thousands because I trusted people who were out to gyp me. My fault for not knowing enough etc. but gosh.

    I’ve been lucky to have dealings with only one agent, recently, who was as much off her rocker as anything else and she was not in NYC. Years ago the agent was the daughter in law of the woman from whose estate we were trying to buy an apartment. She was so horrible that my then lawyer recommended that we not work with her and to walk away. But we wanted the apartment and we tolerated her nonsense. The woman I wrote about in this post knew what she was doing–or not doing–and was jubilant to get away with it.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Nancy,

    The PR firm was sold to another one and the owner and his staff were treated terribly by the new owners. That’s the last I heard. I think that at the time it was in existence it could have done very well without the shenanigans. But think of hedge fund types making $billions or bankers or entrepreneurs making $millions and that’s not enough for them: They have to cheat. Greed is a disease.

    Referrals aside, how can a person leave others in the lurch as we were–or the clients of that PR firm were? Clearly the real estate agent could stretch the truth, do zip and sleep very well at night. She had bigger fish to fry. We didn’t look like the types she was interested in anyway.

  11. Nancy Farrell Said:

    You are correct. These people have a disease and enough is never enough. Years ago I met someone who started her own business. She was happy to leave her boss. A few years later the former boss asked her for a job. She was direct and told him he was part of what inspired her to strike out on her own. And that she was sorry but that she could never work with him again! I’m not so sure the agent you describe is sleeping well at night. Secure people don’t need to do harm to make themselves feel important. If she is sleeping well she is clueless. The agent who initially refused to give me the square footage tried to make nice with me in the elevator as we went to the closing and even said she’d love for me to think of her when I sell. I told her that good work speaks volumes and that I was very happy with my agents and that clearly she gave the impression that she had more work than she could handle. Her smiled disappeared and we rode in silence.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Nancy,

    Good for you and the person you wrote about for speaking up when approached by such out of touch individuals.

    Business people who change their tunes after potentially doing damage, or actually doing damage, figuring that you should let bygones be bygones and expecting to be on your good side again are, as you suggest, either delusional, clueless and/or insensitive and, unfortunately, in my experience, usually very successful.

  13. Lucrezia Said:

    If it spares another buyer/renter pain, the right thing to do is write the NY Times, sending a cc to the Better Business Bureau, and a local realty board, if such exists. Remaining silent only encourages the nauseous behavior described above, while causing needless grief to future victims.

    It’s no surprise that good or bad realtors exist. That goes for all lines of work. I am happy to give names to anyone moving to my area (Northern Westchester). There must be some “bad” ones, but haven’t run into any in years.

  14. Judith Trojan Said:

    Very enlightening, Jeanne! I feel your pain…moving is hell to begin and end with. Adding sloppy, disrespectful real estate agents to the mix just seals the deal for me. Sorry about the cliches, but I’ve moved enough times to know that sometimes cliches (esp. in the instance you describe) fit the bill. I won’t be moving again “until pigs fly.”

  15. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    I don’t want to drag the “Very Good” agent, Linda Gawley, into a big to-do. She’s on the run all day every day and night as it is. In spite of such a schedule, she gave us Rolls-Royce service. I don’t want to put her into a “no good deed goes unpunished” scenario. That said, I am toying with the idea of sending a link of this post to some real estate media.

  16. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Judith,

    I know you live in a beautiful home and trust that you will never need to move. As someone said to me, it’s a good way to get rid of a lot of stuff and start fresh. More about that in a future post.

    As much as we were put out, so was our agent, Linda, who wasn’t getting any richer by helping us out by doing the other agent’s work. She never complained nor did she once lose her patience. Wish she could bottle and sell her attitude and approach.

Leave a Reply