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Adventures in Real Estate, Part 2: The Lawyer Who “Phoned It In”

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Selling and/or buying a home can be an aggravating, time consuming, and expensive endeavor which typically involves working with a team of “professionals,” all with their hands out for their cut. There are real estate brokers, mortgage brokers, and real estate lawyers to contend with, just for starters. As in all professions, some are good, some are bad, and some are just plain evil, greedy bastards.

For the past seven years, I've known where I wanted to move as soon as my ex-boyfriend and I could finally agree to sell our old place. It’s a great coop complex in the Bronx near my current boyfriend BG. I’d first seen it advertised when I picked up one of those free “real estate books” they had in a kiosk on Fordham Road. The two page ad blew me away right then and there.

A few years passed, and I became manic and almost bought a place there — even put down a hefty deposit and signed a contract. But I realized that paying a mortgage as well as maintenance, though do-able, would be more of a stretch than I’d feel comfortable about, and I was able to get my deposit back.

But S, the guy I dealt with at the coop’s management company, remembered me when I called him again after we’d finally put our Manhattan coop on the market last fall. He told me to call back when we went into contract, and call I did.

Soon enough S showed me the home of my dreams. I got all my paperwork in order. I was paying cash, so no mortgage hassle was involved. He did a credit check, and informed me that I had an A-plus score.

S had a list of several lawyers he worked with on contracts and closings, and gave me two names to choose from. I called B and we got down to business, or so I thought.

B’s fee was relatively modest, especially compared to the lawyer we retained for the closing of our place downtown. But that lawyer met with us in his office and sat down with us for at least an hour and went over the contract line by line. He was friendly, courteous, and a pleasure to work with.

No so with B. He, too, was pleasant enough at first, but seemed to need to justify his fees by exaggerating the importance of his role. In any case, I expected contracts to be sent to me in short order.

Unlike our lawyer for the sale of our place, B did not meet with clients for contract review. Rather, he would messenger me my copy, I would review it, we would discuss any questions I had by phone, and I would messenger it back to him.

Nevertheless, quite a bit of time went by with no contract in sight. When I finally called back S after a week or more to tell him that I hadn’t received the paperwork yet, he was, and I quote, “shocked.” Though B had told me that the seller’s attorney hadn’t sent him anything yet, according to S he just hadn’t bothered to send a messenger to pick the papers up from the seller’s lawyer.

Another problem was that B seemed to have some vested interest in convincing me that I could not have the speedy closing S had assured me of from day one. Since S obviously had clout with the coop board, he'd assured me from the get go that he could arrange for them to meet with me for my board approval asap after the contracts were signed.

But during every conversation I had with B — which involved numerous calls and messages to him, all in an effort to find out where my contract was — he insisted on telling me that there was no way I would close that quickly.

Although coop boards often meet only once a month or even less frequently, during which they review potential buyers' financials and schedule the requisite board interview prior to closing, this situation was different. S had been working there for years, and could get deals done in record time by surrounding himself with a competent network of lawyers and mortgage brokers who knew the process for this particular building backwards and forwards and could close a deal in weeks rather than months. And he had enough clout with the board to get a meeting set up for me to be interviewed within a week’s time or so.

After two more phone messages and one e-mail to B, I finally reached him late that week and he once again took pains to assure me that I would likely not close any time soon. I again explained that S had said I would, and he then advised me to “reach out” to S about the matter. In turn, I told him I had last spoken to S shortly before I called B and that he had once again assured me that all would go as planned.

He gave me the usual tired "professional" schpiel about having been in the business for years, etc. etc. but finally grudgingly said fine, if you’re ready to close, it’ll happen.

Meanwhile, the contract was still not in my hands. Though S told me B definitely had it at this point, B said he wouldn’t get it till Monday. He needed time to “review it,” so he would send it Monday and we could probably go over it on Tuesday.

When I first spoke with B, he told me upfront that he had to review all contracts before sending them out. This gave me considerable pause, since most real estate contracts are pretty standard as far as I know. In fact, I’m pretty sure he could recite the while thing in his sleep.

When I talked to S again after this convo, I asked him what possible motive this man would have for trying to throw a monkey wrench into the works on what should have been a no-brainer transaction. S couldn’t imagine why, and we both noted that how soon I closed was really none of B’s concern.

I had to conclude that in an effort to prove to me that he was worth his fee, he had to try to make me believe that he was all-knowing and that the process was fraught with red tape and mystery. In point of fact, he was simply lazy all the way around: too lazy to meet with me and go over the contract in person; too lazy to schedule a messenger to pick up the contract; and too lazy, dishonest, and deceptive to send me the crucial papers in a timely fashion.

After e-mailing B as S then suggested, I sent this e-mail to S:

Hey S:

Thanks for getting back to me. Just to reiterate, if I don't get the contract Monday as expected, I wish to terminate my non-professional non-relationship with Mr. C, and have you recommend another more competent attorney for this very simple job.

S, as I said, he is too lazy and lackadaisical to even meet with me in person. He's also pretending that he needs time to "review the papers" before he sends them to me. Excuse me? This is not some exotic contract, is it? He could recite it in his sleep!

So my patience has worn thin. I'll give it til Monday, and then I'm out.

PS — Since he was too lazy to send me a written retainer agreement to sign, I don't owe him a penny, do I? He should be paying me for the aggravation.

Sorry — just had to vent and make my feelings very clear on the matter.

I don’t know if B actually bought his own bullshit, but I don’t really care. I called S back later that day and said I didn't want to wait till Monday after all — I wanted another lawyer now.

I met with my new lawyer in S’s office that Tuesday since Monday was a Federal holiday, went over the contracts with him, had my questions and concerns addressed with courtesy and dispatch, and signed the papers, which were promptly sent back to the seller's attorney.

When I returned to my boyfriend BG’s place that evening, there was a Fedex package waiting for me. It was the contracts from B — a day late and a dollar short.

S believes in working with others who can get the job done efficiently, but any endeavor can only be done as efficiently only if other the key players cooperate and do their share as part of the team. One of my most fervent wishes — aside from a speedy board approval — is that S will think twice before offering B’s “services” to any more hapless buyers down the line.

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About Elvira Black

  • Julia H, Louisville, KY

    Do you give any advice to first time home buyers like my husband and I? We have a similar story, except we are being told about a bid we made on a house, and being told a line of crap. Please let me know. I’m at my wits end with this, and have no clue who to ask for advice. I found your article while searching the words “real estate lawyers.” Thank you for your time, and if you can’t lend any advice, thanks for at least getting the word out on slimeballs like the one you wrote about! There are LOTS!!!!

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    Hi Julia:

    So sorry to hear about your trouble, but of course you’re not alone. There’s a site called Active Rain run by real estate professionals that you might like to check out, as they have real estate agents and other RE professionals from all over the country who participate, and most seem very committed to providing professional service. There are likely some agents from your area represented there, and you can visit their websites or e-mail them. The site is also a treasure trove of info about good and bad real estate practices, as some agents are also very dismayed at the dirty tricks some of their colleages engage in. I learned a lot about the ins and outs of the business just by perusing that site.

    There are some good agents out there, but like every other profession there are always those bad apples who ruin the rep of the good ones and make clients’ lives miserable in the process. The best advice I can give is to get connected with an agent who has had considerable time in the business and the rep to prove it. Many of them will work in tandem with lawyers and mortgage brokers they trust, which can make the process considerably smoother all the way around.

    Best of luck–as I’ve learned, when you hook up with the good guys, the process can be relatively headache free! And do let me know how you make out!