experts: real estate column Monday, May 17, 1999

THE DEAL'S GOTTA BE IN WRITING FIRST...

It was Friday. The name's Dick. I'm a Realtor. It all started as a routine 10-20. At about 2:14. The hunk of electronics on my belt said to call Kathleen. Great name. I just hoped she had a good story to match.

By Marty Douglas

It was Friday. The name's Dick. I'm a Realtor. It all started as a routine 10-20. At about 2:14. The hunk of electronics on my belt said to call Kathleen. Great name. I just hoped she had a good story to match. I called from the car - on my 'cell' phone. Ironic, eh? Never mind, inside joke. She answered - a little breathless.

I gave her my i.d. and tried to imagine long red hair and great gams. Then I tried to remember what 'gams' meant. She told me her story. She's a tenant on the east side of town. With a problem. Wants to buy her place from the landlord. He's a shyster from the city who just drops by once a month and gets what he needs from her and leaves. She feels used. Not going to take it anymore. Wants to buy. Needs a value. Can I help?

"Lady, it's what I do." I suggest I drive over to her place. She demurs. I admire the use of that word for several moments. She's afraid. It's her first time with a man who might treat her like she's more than a rent cheque. "Couldn't I just describe the house to you over the phone and then you tell me what it's worth?" I decide to play a little rough. "I don't do it on the phone. Every now and then in a car maybe, but only for an old friend and even then, just in the front seat."

I tell her the facts. Just the facts. "Look lady, I'm a pro. I deal professional dope. If I give you bad dope and you get hurt, then they'll come looking for me. And those boys and girls from the Council play for keeps. You'll only get what you need from me the old fashioned way - face to face."

She moans a little. Just enough to make me pull out my copy of the Code to reread the part about opinions. Damn it, there it was in black and white. As good as I was on the phone, it just couldn't happen. It'd be worth my private license. I ask for the address and offer to come right over. She snaps at me, like I'd caused her problems. I can hear a kid crying in the background now. My image of red hair and legs all the way to the top begins to unravel. There's a faint smell of boiled cabbage and onions in the air now. It's the wrapper from the burger joint I go to after the gym.

"Have you thought about what's involved in a deal?" I ask, hoping to scare some sense into her. Tell her about lawyers and closing costs and down payment and appraisals and house inspections and title searches and plot plans and taxes and then I let her have the big one. That's right - servicing ratios. I tell her fast and hard so she can't write it all down, spilling one terror onto the next. When I'm done we're both gasping. And sweaty. But she still doesn't get it. I'm not getting through. Could be she's a bubble off centre.

"Couldn't you just try it on the phone? Just this once? For me?" she whispers, summoning up a bit of southern honey in her voice. The red hair and legs are back in play. The kid has shut up. There's just me and her and the Dave Brubeck tape I slipped into the machine while we rested up from the tension we'd been giving each other.

"It's not worth the risk, babe. Without looking over the merchandise, it can't be legit." Then it struck me. Something I had read in that private Realtor rag while I was waiting on a case. The guy in REM seemed to know what he was saying. Could tell a joke or two while he was spinning a yarn too. There was a new service we licensed Dicks could offer. I had a copy in my gym bag in case the blonde in the lycra wasn't on the stairmaster.

I found the article. Buyer agency. Gave it a quick glance just to stuff the lingo in my brain and then got back on the cell. "Maybe I can help, but not on the phone. I'll meet you at that coffee joint in midtown. There's a way we can do business. I get paid from the deal and you get me on your side. All the way. There's only one thing."

"What's that?" she said, "You don't mean . . ."

"Yeah I do, babe. There's gotta be a contract."

I don't know if this story's got an end. Maybe we just repeat it over and over until we get it right. I do know this. The deal's gotta be in writing first. You think I'm wrong? Then you don't know Dick.




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