A Look at the Lighter Side of Real Estate
By David Parker
It has been nearly 35 years since I wrote my first Property Lines column. It has appeared in real estate magazines, newspapers, newsletters and was even cited in a text book. A lot has changed in those 35 years. We have seen the dawn of cell phones, the advent of computers and the internet and much more. And I even found someone willing to stay married to me for 30 years. As I think about how our industry has changed so much, I am reminded of a settlement that happened right after we began to utilize fax machines.
We were at the settlement table and the loan officer called indicating that we were not allowed to proceed any further until he was given a copy of the termite inspection report. As luck would have it, one of the agents had the report with her and we, being somewhat technologically advanced at that time, had just purchased a fax machine. No one really knew exactly how it worked, but at least we had the machine. And the loan officer had one, too. So I called in our new secretary and asked her to fax the termite report down to the loan officer. Thinking that it wouldn’t take but a minute to complete this task, I went back into the settlement room to entertain the crowd while we waited for the phone call from the loan officer authorizing us to proceed. Twenty minutes went by, I had used up all of my jokes, and people were starting to get anxious. So I went back to check on the secretary. “What is the problem?” I asked. With a somewhat flustered look on her face, she turned around and said, and I promise I am not making this up, “Every time I put the termite report into the machine to fax it to the loan officer, instead of going to him, it just slides right out the other side of the machine. It’s not going to the loan officer.” About ten seconds later, I received a frantic phone call from the loan officer. “It’s all ok,” he screamed. “Do your settlement! I have 23 copies of the termite report. Please, just stop sending it to me!”
As much as our industry has evolved, some parts of our real estate world have remained unchanged. I am reminded of a story from a time when I went on a visit to my future in laws. I was newly engaged at the time. It was my first trip to their house in Raleigh and I was, undoubtedly, extremely nervous. My future father in law had to run an errand and asked me to come along for the ride. Off we went to the fishing department at Walmart, a place that I, admittedly, had not spent very much time in. In fact, my recollection at the time was that when we wanted a fish, we went to the deli and bought one. Cooked and ready to eat. I watched in amazement as my soon to be father in law studied each of what seemed to me to be thousands of fishing hooks, lures, and bait. To be honest, most of them looked the same to me, although I was somewhat in favor of the purple worms because they matched the school colors of my college. After a half hour or so, my future father in law finally reached for one package, looked at me, and stated, “This is the one I want.” Relieved that this otherwise uninteresting errand was about to end, my soon to be father in law stopped dead in his tracks, turned around, and reached for a second package of the same bait. He looked at me very seriously and stated, “Always remember your fishing buddy.”
I tell you that story so that I can tell you this one. It was a recent settlement and there had been a problem with a missing garage door opener. The buyer ultimately said he was fine with just one opener. In a strange twist, the listing agent came in a bit late to settlement, and she mentioned that she was at the store over the weekend because her garage door opener had broken, so she bought a replacement one. As she was telling the story, I thought about the story with my father in law and the fishing bait. As if scripted by a Hollywood writer, the agent, looking directly at the buyer, said, “As long as I was there, I thought I would buy one for you, too. “
Indeed, a lot has changed in our industry since I started writing this column. But some things never change. Be honest with your customers. Be kind to everyone involved with the transaction. And perhaps most important, always remember your fishing buddy.
David Parker is an attorney and the President of Village Settlements, Inc. His columns have appeared regularly in local newspapers, magazines and newsletters. He is the co-author of the book, “Real Estate Practice in DC, Maryland and Virginia.” This column, Property Lines, will take a look at the lighter side of real estate transactions. Readers are encouraged to contact him with topics that they would like to see discussed. He can be reached at