About halfway through reading the following story, you’re going to stop, and say to yourself, “There’s no way this can be true.”
But if you read my blog on a regular basis, you know that anything can and will happen in the wacky world of real estate.
Put enough people in a room together, and anything can happen. And take all the participants in real estate – the buyers, sellers, agents, mortgage brokers, inspectors, et al, and consider their various levels of experience, and you’re bound to have stories like this one.
I think enough time has passed that I can tell this story.
This happened to a colleague of mine who works with another brokerage, and surely by now she can laugh about it!
In 2007, “Veronika” started out upon a very difficult path trying to get established in real estate, and make a career out of it. She was a relatively young girl, but with a business degree, and experience in the customer service business.
One of the best ways for young Realtors to get business is to work open houses on weekends, since that’s one place that you’re guaranteed to meet people interested in buying real estate.
Finding the clientele is one of the toughest aspects of the business for new agents. I have a colleague right now that thinks, “Being social” is the best way to find business, but I keep telling her that going to dinner parties, bars, and events 3-4 nights per week might introduce her to people but not people – who want to buy real estate.
Working an open house is, and in my mind, always will be the best way to meet active buyers. Sure, many of these buyers have their backs up as soon as they walk through the door, and will do everything they can to avoid the sales pitch, but so long as you’re not a leech or a shark, you might find that people actually want to talk to you about real estate.
Veronika was doing an open house on Robinson Street in Queen West, and when she was setting up her signs on the Sunday afternoon, a lady approached her.
“Excuse me?” the lady asked. “Are you the real estate lady?”
Those were her exact words, and perhaps that should have been Veronika’s first sign.
“Yes, I am,” my colleague told her. “Is there something I can help you with?”
The lady, named Olga, explained, “I need to buy a house, and I want YOU to be my real estate agent.”
Veronika was shocked. She wasn’t even in the house – she was merely setting up her signs!
It was like a fish jumping out of the lake and landing on the dock next to your fishing rod!
“That sounds great,” Veronika told Olga. “When can we get started?”
Olga asked if they could meet on Monday afternoon at the Tim Horton’s on Queen Street, and Veronika was excited.
She showed up on Monday, and there was Olga, sitting in the window of the Tim Horton’s. Veronika offered to buy Olga a coffee, and Olga said, “That’s great – and a chocolate chip cookie too!”
They sat and chatted for an hour about Olga’s real estate needs, and planned a course with which to move forward.
Olga had a bit of a sad story: her house on Montrose burned down, and she lost everything. It was why, she explained, she had no phone, no identification, and no possessions of significance. She was currently living down the street, but she told Veronika that she had a lot of money, and was ready to buy.
She was living in a condo where she was having serious problems with the board of directors, and property management. They were harassing her, as she explained, and she wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.
Veronika had been given the name of a mortgage broker through a friend, and decided to use this young man for financing. The mortgage broker was brand new, and had previously worked for Keller Williams as a real estate agent, but had now started up as a mortgage broker.
The young mortgage broker worked hard, and was determined. This is usually an asset, but in this case, was a detriment, as we would soon learn.
He started the file on Olga, and based on their conversations and what she could provide, he told Veronika that Olga was approved for a purchase price of $300,000.
Veronika met Olga again later that week to show her a few houses. They met at the same Tim Horton’s, where Olga sat in the same seat, had the same cookie and coffee (that Veronika paid for…) and interestingly enough, looked like she was wearing the same outfit as a few days prior.
Olga walked with Veronika and got in her car, and Veronika noticed for the first time that Olga smelled. Bad. Smelled really bad.
Veronika is really nice and easy-going, and is the last person that would judge somebody.
They went out and looked at a few houses, and Olga found one that she liked. Veronika dropped Olga off at the corner of Bathurst and Queen (she asked to be dropped there), and said she would call her later this evening to discuss the offer. Olga asked if she could call Veronika, and Veronika agreed.
They decided to put an offer in on the property the next day, and it would be conditional on financing, which the young mortgage broker was working on diligently.
Veronika met Olga at the same Tim Horton’s again, bought her another coffee and a cookie, and had her sign the paperwork.
Later that night, the offer was accepted, and Veronika had just done her very first deal! It was conditional, but she was excited nonetheless. She called Olga to tell her the good news, but the number that was displayed on Veronika’s phone from when Olga called before was busy, over and over and over.
The next day, Olga called Veronika to check in, and Veronika gave her the good news! She said that they should meet so Veronika could get a deposit cheque, and Olga said they should meet on Augusta Avenue.
Veronika pulled up on Augusta, and from a distance she saw somebody in the alleyway that she swore looked like Olga. The person was digging through a dumpster – almost in the dumpster from the waist up, and then pulled out an orange basket.
She began to walk down the alleyway, toward the street, and Veronika watched in amazement as the person drew nearer and it turned out this was Olga!
Olga walked up to the car, and got in the passenger side. “Do you like my bag?” she asked Veronika, to Veronika’s amazement. “I just got it today,” she said.
Olga smelled even worse today, and Veronika was positive that she was wearing the same outfit again.
Veronika told Olga that their offer was accepted and that she needed to get a deposit cheque, so Olga suggested that they drive to TD Bank to procure a draft.
They went inside, and approached the teller, and he was somewhat standoffish. Olga said, “Please give my real estate agent ten thousand dollars from my bank account,” and the teller’s eyes bulged out. A manager came over, a conference ensued, and they explained to Veronika that they couldn’t give $10,000 of Olga’s money, for reasons that they couldn’t delve into.
Olga made a bit of a scene, and then the manager asked her to sign an authorization that would allow them to discuss her financials openly with Veronika, and she agreed.
They asked Veronika to come with them into a private conference room, as Olga poured coffee and ate cruellers in the waiting area.
The bank manager explained to Veronika that Olga was essentially a vagrant, who got a very small amount of money each month put into her account by the government.
She had a bank balance of about $500, and no fixed address.
Olga frequented the bank, where she would take entire cubes of sugar and put them into her pocket, and often dump the whole tray of cookies into whatever handbag she was carrying.
She would also periodically make requests to take out thousands of dollars, which she did not have, and always referenced “the fire” that ruined her life.
Veronika felt awful. She was upset, but more embarrassed than anything.
It finally sank in, what had actually transpired here: Veronika sold a house to a homeless person with no money.
Over the next couple of days, Veronika started to piece everything together.
Olga was, like many of the homeless population, afflicted with some sort of mental illness, and often completely out of reality, and not able to distinguish between fact and fiction. She did have an apartment, but it was a very small room in a rooming house for supportive housing, where Olga was apparently a “hoarder” and the room was being cleared out by the fire department as the property manager and supportive staff feared it was an extreme fire hazard.
There was a reason that Olga always wanted Veronika to meet her at Tim Horton’s, and buy her coffee and a cookie.
There was a reason why Olga smelled bad, and wore the same out outfit every day.
There was a reason why Olga had no phone, and couldn’t be reached.
And there was a reason why Olga didn’t want Veronika to come over to her “condo.”
The young mortgage broker, Veronika later discovered, had absolutely no clue what he was doing, and simply took Olga’s words that she had “a million dollars,” and even though she didn’t work, she would be able to make an ample down payment on the house, and qualify for a mortgage based on her net worth.
Veronika was crushed, and embarrassed that she had put this deal up on the “board” at her brokerage, but eventually she brushed it off, and forged ahead.
If you asked her today, she would probably stop short of calling it a “learning experience,” and it’s one she probably wants to forget.
But try as you might, you absolutely, positively, will always remember your first deal. Even if you happened to sell a house to a homeless person…