A friend of mine, who is just about to get into the real estate business, has been asking me about a dozen questions per week for the last……oh, maybe two months.
Most of his questions result in blunt, quick, obvious answers. It’s truly the only way I know.
But a question earlier this week stumped me: “Have you ever, in your real estate career, been greased?”
He was asking if I’d ever taken money, for something I shouldn’t have, and the answer wasn’t that simple.
Bear with me here, and give me some leeway, as I detail a story that no other Realtor would dare…
I’m in a people business. Surely there is no doubt about that.
In the average week, I probably interact with two hundred people or more, and if you’ll excuse my bravado, I’d say that I know a thing or two about people.
I know, more often than not, about thirty seconds into a conversation with a person on the phone whether I want to business with this person or not. And again, if you’ll excuse my bravado, I’m in a position where I can choose who I want to work with, and sometimes, the voice on the other end of the line does not make me feel warm and fuzzy.
I had a guy call me last week who said something to the effect of, “I know so many people who are going to buy real estate in the next two years, and if you sell my condo for free, I’ll introduce them to you.”
It was a longer conversation than that, but I’m paraphrasing. And the bottom line is, the reason I’m able to work seven days per week, every week, and absolutely love what I do for a living, is because I love the people I work with.
Mr. Run’n’Gun; Mr. Big Deal; Mr. Talk-The Talk – I’m not looking to do business with him. Whether or not he’s legit, and could “introduce me to people who want to buy real estate,” i just didn’t like the vibe I was getting on the phone, through a six-minute conversation, and I didn’t see myself sitting in the car with him for hours on end, calling him at 12:30am, and genuinely enjoying a working relationship with him.
I run into all kinds of different people, from all walks of life. It’s what makes this job unique.
But when there are big dollar values, and massive life decisions hanging in the balance, you’re going to see the best, and worst, of what the industry has to offer.
Several months ago, I had a listing that garnered just shy of ten offers.
On “offer day,” I basically sat in my office for eight hours, fielding calls. From 9am, right up until 7pm, I was on the phone, fielding a vast array of questions about the property, and the offer process.
Just before 6:00pm, I got a call from somebody who I had yet to speak with, which is odd on an offer night, when you’ve usually talked to every interested party well in advance.
The person on the other end of the phone didn’t sound “all there,” and there was just something off about him. Honestly, I thought it was a prank, for the first twenty seconds of the call. But it turned out to be legit, and I had no idea what was ahead of me that night.
The person, who I’ll call……..hmmmm……”Frank,” was a registered real estate salesperson, who was not a practicing agent.
He was basically a person who had a real estate license, just to do deals for himself.
He was a self-described “whale” who “bought and sold properties for breakfast,” but he wasn’t the type of person that I wanted to break bread with.
There was something aloof about him, and his questions and statements during our brief phone conversation were all treading on unethical, and always straddling “the line.”
He basically said to me, “I want to pay $10,000 more for the property than the highest offer you receive,” which is something people have said before, without thinking.
So I told him what any self-respecting listing agent would tell him: “The highest offer is one-billion-dollars, so would you like to offer one-billion-plus-ten-thousand?”
He didn’t blink. He acted like it never happened.
“David, I would be willing to go $15,000 higher than the next highest offer, if that’s what is required,” he said.
But then he hit me with something I’ve never seen before: “And I would be more than pleased to pay you the entire commission I would earn from this sale.”
The property was in the $600,000 neighbourhood, so he was basically offering me a $15,000 bribe, tax-free, to help get my seller-client more money for his property.
Sounds like everybody wins, does it not?
Unfortunately, that’s not my style.
I told him quite frankly, and pardon the unintended pun, “Frank, I don’t run that kind of operation. Offers are at 7:00pm at 290 Merton Street, and we have eight offers registered. We’re looking for a very quick closing, given the property is vacant, and I would expect your offer to be unconditional. Please register your offer with my front desk at 416-322-8000.”
And that was that.
I really don’t feel the need to expand on what I just said. I don’t run that kind of operation, and it’s not who I am. Debating the merits of a bribe, or the ethics, or the frequency with which it may or may not happen in our business, is not the point of this blog post.
At 7:00pm, we had nine offers on the property, and Frank was one of them.
We reviewed all the offers, and believe it or not, Frank blew everybody out of the water with his offer.
He was one of the sketchiest people I’ve ever met in this business, and I honestly think he was high that night.
He didn’t have a certified deposit cheque with him, but he did offer me $20,000 in cash (which for some reason he had in a bag in his car…) as collateral, but I told him I would take his personal cheque. Trust me – I discussed this with my sellers, but his offer was so much higher than the next offer, that we were willing to take the personal cheque, in exchange for a bank draft the next morning.
After we signed the deal, we all shook hands – the sellers, Frank, and myself, and I began to walk Frank out.
Frank told me that he had “something special for me,” and I told him that I didn’t want it, whatever it was.
Apparently, I wasn’t clear enough.
An hour later, after my clients had left, and I was the only person left in the building, Frank sent me a text message: “David, I slipped a little something through the drop-slot in your building. Thanks again for tonight.”
My heart started to race, and not in a good way.
I remember when I was 12-years-old, and I went to the old “National Trust” on Bayview Avenue (remember before the “Big Five” banks??), to deposit $30 in cash.
I updated my bank book (remember those), and to my surprise, there was a deposit for $1,330.30.
I don’t think I ever rode my bike as fast as I did that day!
I flew down Millwood Road, and across Bessborough Drive, and I went home and told my Dad what just happened.
My Dad, the criminal lawyer, explained that to withdraw those funds would be a criminal offence, and that the mistake would eventually be corrected.
When Frank slipped “a little something” through the after-hours drop-slot at Bosley Real Estate, I did not feel the same way as I did back in 1992.
I remember standing on the landing at the top of the stairs, and looking down to see this tiny red envelope on our blue carpet, shining at me in the moonlight that came through the window.
I went down, picked it up, and found $1,000 in one-hundred dollar bills.
I felt disgusting.
Honestly, it wasn’t just the dirty red envelope that felt gross.
I thoroughly rinsed with Purell, and then washed my hands, but I couldn’t get the stink off. My hands felt greasy, and my fingertips felt grimy. But it wasn’t really the physical dirt that was bothering me.
I left that red envelope on the ledge at the front of our building overnight, partially hoping it would be gone the next day. Maybe the cleaners would take it, and one of them could put that money to good use.
The next morning, I found the envelope where I had left it, and I picked it up, and decided what I was going to do with it.
I told somebody in my office (who shall remain nameless), that I wanted to donate $1,000 to the Bosley Breakfast Program, which is a program we run at Thorncliffe Park Public School to provide meals every morning for the kids who go to school hungry.
“The person” looked at me, and the red envelope, and said, “Where did this money come from?”
He/She knew, and didn’t really even have to ask.
I told him/her the entire story, and I was told in return, “Get the f*** out of my office with that, and don’t talk to me about it again.”
I know what you’re thinking – the money was going to a good cause, so what’s the harm?
But once I reasoned a bit further, I realized that just because I give this money to a good cause, doesn’t change where it came from. It’s still me that’s accepting the money to begin with, no matter what I turn around and do with it.
It was a bribe, albeit after the fact, and something I never agreed to, from somebody who was dirty, sleazy, and goes through this industry leaving a trail of unethical behaviour.
If I gave this money to the Breakfast Program, it wouldn’t change where it came from. I’d still be accepting it, when I shouldn’t be.
So I did the only logical thing, in my mind: I put it in an envelope, and couriered it to the agent directly at his brokerage, such that only he could sign for it, and accept it.
The envelope was in limbo for two days, but eventually, the agent signed for it, and the mysterious red envelope was returned.
So call me a fool.
Call me naive.
Call me a do-gooder.
Or tell me that underprivileged children went hungry because I had a conscience, because that’s what I struggled with.
But no matter what you tell me, there is a counter-argument, and I don’t know if we could reach a consensus on what the “right” course of action was.
I run my business a certain way, and I never waver from that, no matter what.
I’m one-hundred percent certain that I made the right decision, at least, based on my values.
And that’s what matters most.
Does it not?