Home buying, investing, and selling information in the Greater Boston area

The Time I Refused to Sell a House



If you recall the madness which was taking place in the manic real estate market of 2004-2007 (especially in such places as Boston, Miami, Las Vegas, etc.), you have, no doubt, heard crazy stories of “weekend investors” going bankrupt, people making $30,000/ year obtaining mortgage loans for $750,000, people re-financing their homes at $105% debt-to-equity, etc. Perhaps you knew someone who was affected by one of more of these phenomena. “Market mania” is one of the most prevalent manifestations of FOMO (“fear of missing out,” for all you ‘non-hipsters).


So, perhaps, the story which I am about to convey MIGHT not surprise you. But I was “in the story,” and it still amazes me.


When I used to work down in Brockton, MA, a lady called in on one of the homes our office had listed for sale. She wanted to see the house, so I scheduled a time to meet her and her family to show it to them. When I arrived, I met her…and her 8 kids.


Throughout the course of going through the home with her and getting to know her situation a little bit better, I learned that (a) she had no job, (b) her one source of income was her monthly welfare checks (about $2,000/ month total for her and her 8 kids), but that (c) she was “pre-approved” by a mortgage lender. I thought to myself, “There is no way.”


I asked for the number of her mortgage lender. When I called him and explained that I met his customer and that she wanted to buy the house we had listed, but that I had some concerns about the ability to finance it (let alone keep up with the actual mortgage payments). In what I picture as one of those sinister action-movie villain style ways, he simply said, “Trust me, it’s all set.”


At this point I had a choice to make: (a) join into a situation where the potential buyer was being victimized by someone taking advantage of the “fog-a-mirror” lending standards of the day, or (b) explain to her that what she was trying to do was extremely dangerous and encourage her to create some stability (and increased income and savings) for herself and her family before taking on so much debt. Well, I chose option “b.” And she claimed to totally agree with me. “You know, you are right. Thank you so much for explaining this to me. I think we had better hold off.”


But she was an all-too-willing victim.


I followed up with her a couple of months later, to check in and see how she was doing. You will never believe (or, maybe you will, if you are at all familiar with how crazy the real estate & mortgage lending market was at that time) what she told me, “Guess what! We are about to close on our new house!” She had “yes, yes’d’ me…and then went off and did what she was going to do anyway…to her own detriment. (I would be surprised if she made one payment on that mortgage, and I am 100% certain that it all ended in foreclosure.)


I was dumbfounded. As a commissioned salesperson, I had to ask myself if I had done the right thing by refusing to sell this woman a house. After all, SOMEBODY ended up getting a commission check out of the deal. I still feel like it was a valid question.


But (and, perhaps this is hindsight bias), I think I did the right thing for my situation. If I claim to abhor “ambulance-chasing,” funeral-crashing (yes, some real estate agents “crash” funerals looking for business: http://www.reallyrottenrealty.com/blog/real-estate-agent-tries-to-earn-business-at-a-funeral/), ‘trample-on-anyone-that-gets-between-you-and-your-commission-check’ real estate agents, then I cannot partake in that behavior. I have to be able to look myself in the mirror and have some self-respect.


Now, I am not the first Realtor who has ever tried to “do the right thing” and, by so doing, miss out on a commission check. But I will say that I am in rare company.


“Intent” something that becomes apparent when you spend a reasonable amount of time with someone. When you are with someone, you know almost right away if they are out for themselves, or if they really want what is best for you.

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About Shane Engel

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Shane Engel



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