Unfortunately in the real world, there are bad people and unethical business owners. In tough economic times, laziness and ethical absence can combine with desperation and lead to some really ugly situations. The Loan Modification industry is a perfect example of a service that should have helped but went drastically wrong some where.
Here are the top 10 steps you can take to try and avoid getting burnt by forming any sort of relationship with a Real Estate Service related business online.
- Look for verifiable Contact Information:
- Does the company provide their physical address? Can you verify the address for their legal entity with the secretary of state? (i.e.- if the business is in California they should be registered with the California Secretary of State) Make sure you have the name of the legal entity as well as any DBA's or you may find a false positive here.
- If not, what are they trying to hide? Neither IET Real Estate office is operating out of Trump Towers (!!...yet!!!) but we have worked hard to get to where we are today. We are proud of what we have and are more than happy to have clients come to our office. When I go to the contact page of a company and they don't have their contact information listed a red flag is automatically raised. For me, a huge part of building a solid relationship is accountability. Murphys law is universal, things always go wrong. Who is going to be there to assist you when that happens? In my opinion, clients deserve multiple ways of being able to reach someone when they need assistance. This is part of the _SERVICE_ that Real Estate Agents are always claiming to be # 1 at. How are you providing service to your clients when they need to talk to you? If you only give clients an 800# answered by an automated phone system or a link to an unmanned "Real-Time" chat service (which never has someone anyone available to chat)?
- Basically can you easily answer the question: Who the hell are these guys? Would you be able to directly communicate with the CEO if you needed to?
- Is the individual or company licensed with the Department of Real Estate? Are they licensed? Have they ever been professionally disciplined? If yes ask them to explain why. Is the company a member of any reputable professional organization (and being the self-proclaimed #1 Agent in Lalaland does not count)? i.e.- Better Business Bureau, National Association of Realtors (NAR) etc., etc.
- Google them, search for reviews and testimonials.
- 1 or 2 bad reviews isn't neccessarily a telltale sign. Especially for a company that has done hundreds or thousands of transactions. Video Testimonials with unpaid actors are always good, mainly because they take alot of time to create and scammers and con-artists are too lazy to spend the time it takes to create these, new unproven market entrants don't have past clientele that are willing to vouch for their experiences with the company.
- What are their policies for securing client data? Are they a red flag compliant organization?
- Can they provide you with a landline or dedicated company # or is their cell phone the only way you have of contacting them? Small detail, but scammers and people that like to play games are often lazy too and don't take the time or want to make the investment to do the things that someone planning on being in business long term would do. This is why google looks at the length of time a domain name is registered as a factor in determining domain authority. Google ain't dumb.
- Do they respond in a reasonable amount of time? This doesn't mean do they spend all day on Twitter. A successful Real Estate professional is busy, their time is precious. For me to do business with a person or organization though, I want a way to resolve issues within a reasonable timeframe. When an issue pops up with your transaction or you need information will this individual or organization be accessible?
- Look before you leap: does this person or individual do what they say? Kick the wheels before you buy the car. If you're dealing with an agent ask them to e-mail you a list of all condos with 3BR/2ba > 1200 sq feet sorted by price in the last 4 months for the area you are looking(or whatever criteria applies to your search). This is an innocuous task that should take a pro less than 3 minutes to complete. Did they do it? Did they do it correctly? Put people on trial periods to see if they are reputable and follow through. This is another great metric for determining if a person or entity truly provides top notch service.
- High Pressure Sales Tactics: are you being asked to take your credit card out of your pocket on your first visit to a site? While it is extremely reasonable for a site to collect contact information as the basis for creating a long term, mutually beneficial relationship, asking for upfront money is rarely neccessary and actually illegal in California if the client is in default/NOD/foreclosure per SB94 as of 10/12/09
- Check their references: For privacy reasons you shouldn't even ask to speak to past clients (you wouldn't want your contact info distributed to strangers would you?). What is reasonable to ask for is the contact info for the team of professionals that the Real Estate professional works with. This would be escrow, title, appraisers, home inspectors, contractors, lenders etc., etc. Find out the specifc individual your agent works with and call any or all of these professional references and see how they react when you bring up your agent or their firms name (or if they even recognize it).
- Ask questions, lots of them. Ask about past experience: How long have they been in the business? Length doesn't equal competence though, if they were that good they'd be retired right?... What type of volume do they do?
- Since Real Estate transactions have to be recorded on public record all of this information is verifiable from records kept at the County Courthouse (in Norwalk for Los Angeles County)
This list is by no means everything you need to do, just some initial suggestions to get you thinking in the right direction (thats my CYA disclaimer!)
I hope this saves someone from getting ripped off. Its no fun, been there done that...
Posted by Ben Nicolas on