Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t


6 minute read

March 11, 2015

I could have also called this post “the lesser of two evil’s,” but I don’t want to suggest that selling real estate is in any way, evil.

Plus, the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” saying completely sums up the plight of many of today’s listing agents who are blamed for whatever course of action they take, when it comes to competitive offer situations.

Hold back offers, and you’re greedy.  Accept offers any time, and you’re lazy, and aren’t working for your seller.

How do you win this argument?


The lesser of two evils.”

I remember where I was the very first time I heard that saying.

It was 1999, I was in second-year university, and our Marketing instructor informed us that our mid-term exam would be written on a Friday night at 7:00pm.

The class absolutely freaked out.  I was livid.

I mean, I was a 19-year-old student – life wasn’t easy!  I had to go to class 15 hours per week, live unsupervised on my own, doing whatever I wanted, all the time.  I had real-life, adult problems, like choosing between pepperoni and salami on a pizza.

I couldn’t believe that the school had the audacity to infringe upon my well-deserved weekend, which I only experienced 32 times per year, you know – before having four entire months off in the summer….

The instructor said, “The university doesn’t have enough exam time slots and physical locations to accommodate every faculty, and every class, during the week.”

She then added, “It was either Friday night at 7:00pm, or Saturday at 12:00pm.  We figured that Friday night represented the lesser of two evils.”

I actually stopped and thought about that saying.

An exam on a Friday night at 7:00pm was unjust, in my mind.  But Saturday at 12pm would have been cruel and unfair.

It was through that saying, “the lesser of two evils,” that I actually accepted their decision as the right thing to do, before I went home and surfed the “Internet” on my brand new 56.0 KB modem all night…

The saying, “the lesser of two evils” rings true in several areas of organized real estate, but one in particular that I want to examine today.

Carolyn Ireland wrote a great article in the Globe & Mail on Friday, which you can read HERE.

The take-away, in two words: sour grapes.

Real estate is a tough business, no doubt about it.  And people are the variable, since it’s still a market of buyers and sellers, and listing agents and buyer agents.

Every agent can handle the process of a purchase or sale differently, and when something doesn’t go an agent’s way, that agent always seems to complain.

Hence, sour grapes.

The Globe & Mail article dealt with the increase in multiple offers on condominiums, and how agents that lose out feel the process was “unfair,” in hindsight, of course.  I mean, I’ve never known a losing party to complain…

In the article, Ms. Ireland tells the story of a Toronto agent who received an offer on a condominium listing within six hours of the unit hitting the market, and overwhelmed with the level of interest, he set a “deadline” for 10:00pm that night, after which he sold the unit, and cancelled all other showings set for the next day.

The agent in the article is Christopher Bibby of Sutton Group, who is one of the top agents in the city of Toronto, and all around great-guy.

And while I’m reading the article thinking that Chris did the right thing, every agent who was on the losing end of this process did not agree.

Ms. Ireland writes, “Some of those agents who missed out on Bleeker Street were complaining that Mr. Bibby hadn’t held back offers for a week.”

Of course they complained.  Sore losers always complain, whereas top Realtors look inwards, blame themselves, and in this case might say, “I should have acted sooner.  Perhaps I could have picked my client up at lunch and shown them the unit; or maybe had a colleague take them.”

So this is where we get to the classic saying: you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Had Mr. Bibby held back offers on this condo, people would complain that “we’re not in that kind of market for condos,” and that “the damn sellers are being greedy – looking to get over asking for ‘just’ a condo.”

Had Mr. Bibby not held back offers, as was the case, he’d end up with a slew of frustrated, and unsatisfied buyer agents who would say, “You didn’t even give me a chance to get in to see it!  How can you sell the condo only six hours after it hits the market?”

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

It’s a tough position to be in.

So what is the “right” way to list properties in this market?

Or better yet: what is the lesser of two evils?

Let’s take a step back here, and think about what happens when you list a condo, with no set offer date, and receive an offer after six hours like the situation in the Globe & Mail article.

The way I see it, there are four ways you can proceed:

1) Accept the offer.

What’s wrong with this?

First horse to the trough gets to eat, right?

Nobody will ever use the word “fair” to describe the real estate market, but I don’t think there’s anything unfair about listing your property for sale, receiving a satisfactory offer, and accepting it.

If other agents and buyers complain that they weren’t able to make it to the property in time, then so be it.  It’s not the responsibility of the listing agent to ensure that 3,000,000 people in Toronto are able to get through the door.

2) Set a deadline.

This is an easy solution.

If you list the property at 9:00am, and receive an offer at 4:00pm, with an 11:59pm irrevocable date, then simply tell all other interested parties, “You have until 11:59pm to bring an offer, after which we will work with the offer in hand.”

That’s totally fair, to both the party that made the offer, and the parties that have expressed an interest in the property.

Now what is a “party that has expressed interest in the property?”  It’s a good question, since this is where many other buyer agents get frustrated, without any right.

If you’re a buyer agent, and you’ve either shown the property, or booked an appointment to show the property, then it’s fair to say you have “expressed interest.”  So a good listing agent (as Mr. Bibby did in the story from the Globe & Mail), will call those agents and let them know there’s an offer on the table, and when it expires.

As for the other agents out there – that complain AFTER the property has sold, that they “weren’t even able to get their clients in,” well, I guess it was up to the listing agent to simply read their minds?

3) Request 48 hours.

This is a bit of a cop-out, to be honest.

A lot of agents will be overwhelmed by the response on the first day of a listing, and upon receiving an email or a page that there is a registered offer, call the buyer agent with the registered offer and say, “You have to give me 48 hours on the offer.”

This is usually accompanied by some line of BS like, “One of my sellers is in India and he won’t be back at the hotel until the day after tomorrow.”

If this works, and the buyer agent provides a 48-hour irrevocable on the offer, then the listing agent has two days to shop that offer to anybody who either goes through the property, or books a showing.

It’s a stall tactic, plain and simple.

4) Set an offer date.

This is the very definition of a “Plan-B.”

I can’t tell you how many times I see a new listing come onto the market, show it to my client that night, and then view the listing that night or the next morning to see it has been updated with, “Offers Graciously Reviewed Tuesday, March 16th at 7:00pm.”

That definitely wasn’t on the listing this morning!

No, but when 18 showings were booked on the very first day of the listing, and two agents called to say, “I’m probably going to bring you an offer,” the listing agent often panics, thinks he or she screwed up, and then sets an offer date to avoid under-selling the property.

Sometimes, it backfires, and buyers who don’t want to compete for “just a condo” won’t even view the property.  They’ll wait to see if it sells on the new “offer night” instead.

But sometimes, buyers and buyer agents who didn’t even view the MLS listings until the day after the property was listed, will never know that the “offer date” was thrown in there after the fact.

So having read the four options, which is the lesser evil?

I know many of you will simply say, “The seller should accept the offer in hand, and not be greedy.”

Seriously, though?

Isn’t that naivety and frustration talking?

If your listing agent said, “We have an offer here for the list price, but two other agents might bring us offers tonight for well above the list price,” would YOU be the leader of the new-age real estate revolution who would say, “You know what?  I’m going to take this offer right here, right now, and hope that others follow my lead”?

The condo market is heading up, folks.  Despite what you might want to believe, or might read in the papers, or see on TV.

I’ve lost out on condos in multiple offers three times this year already, and I’ve won in multiple offers five times.  That’s EIGHT times I’ve been in multiple offers on condos, and it’s only March.

The listing agents are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t……….hold back offers, that is.

Buyers and buyer agents suggest it’s “greedy” when a listing agent holds back offers on a condo, but complain when the condo sold before they could get into it, and ask why no offer date was set.


Double-edged sword?

Whatever you want to call it – it’s the new reality of the 2015 Toronto condo market.

So if you’re a buyer, and you tell your agent, “Let’s see the property on the weekend,” don’t blame the seller and the listing agent if it’s gone by then…

Written By David Fleming

David Fleming is the author of Toronto Realty Blog, founded in 2007. He combined his passion for writing and real estate to create a space for honest information and two-way communication in a complex and dynamic market. David is a licensed Broker and the Broker of Record for Bosley – Toronto Realty Group

Find Out More About David Read More Posts

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  1. GinaTO

    at 9:54 am

    I personally would go with your point number 1. You want to sell, someone wants to buy it, if you like the amount offered, why wait? (I found selling my condo very stressful – it took 31 days.)

    There is an interesting point in the G&M article: “In many cases, the contenders are sparring over units that were languishing on the market in 2014.”

    David, why do you think that is? Unwanted units are suddenly hot cakes? What changed in the market between fall 2014 and now?

    1. Meh

      at 10:37 am

      He already said it – people are the variable.

  2. Appraiser

    at 11:54 am

    “Time to panic about the housing market. Why is everyone ignoring this unfolding disaster?”

    MacLeans Magazine Feb. 28, 2012.

    My favourite quote from the piece is from David Madani:

    “Overconfidence is what’s driving the market. It’s been fuelled by cheap credit. That just can’t keep going on forever,” he says. “I think it’s going to end badly.”


  3. Appraiser

    at 12:15 pm

    “Why low rates may not be enough to save the housing market.”

    Andrew Hepburn, Macleans Magazine, February 23, 2015.

    “The housing bubble is in its final stage. After it bursts, an economy already reeling from the oil crash will be faced with an even more serious threat. Plunging home prices will send the excess borrowing and consumption of the bubble years into reverse, causing the economy to fall into a serious recession.”

    These guys apparently don’t know when to quit. Good thing Jason Kirby (Macleans columnist and business editor) proudly “stands by” everything written about real estate by his venerable magazine. Hilarious.


    1. former snowman

      at 12:12 pm

      The unhilarious part is that his assumptions are still valid. People holding RE have been very lucky (and/or practical, smart, ballsy, and whatever) this last decade, which is…great. But we must acknowledge that the risks are mounting. What scares me is that I don’t see any risk management happening.

      1. Appraiser

        at 12:49 pm

        @ former snowman:

        What risks are mounting, specifically?

        The major housing affordability indexes are stable, mortgages in arrears are at record lows and debt service ratios are declining. Hell, even credit card defaults are at record lows.

        P.S. So mortgage rules having been tightened FOUR times doesn’t constitute risk management? Where have you been?

        No mater the circumstances, it seems that some people are always convinced the sky is falling.

  4. Jonathan

    at 3:07 pm

    I see your point – to retroactively institute a hold back on offers is not fair play to potential buyers who did not expect it. That being said, it’s likely not in the seller’s best interest to accept the first offer or set an excessively tight deadline, and the seller’s interest should win out in this case.

    Personally, I think all listings should have an offer date to avoid this kind of situation from occurring and maximize the pool of potential buyers. In today’s market I can’t imagine that a hold back will really dissuade someone from bidding!

  5. Kyle

    at 4:15 pm

    I think the answer here is quite simple. The listing Agent, should simply do what’s in the best interest of his seller, which could be any of the above, none of the above or various combinations of some of the above. The point is if unhappy buying agents think it’s unfair, they can go suck on it.

    1. joel

      at 9:49 pm

      Well said… I couldn’t agree more!

  6. jeff316

    at 8:49 pm

    I thought his actions were pretty good, to be honest. He acted in a way that didn’t disrespect the the best interests of his clients or the buyer pool.

  7. Nealestate

    at 2:02 am

    As the “listing agent”, the last thing I’m worried about is a losing buyer’s feelings. Is this a thing??! I always thought that my priority was making my seller happy. As Kyle says, that could involve using any of the above but, in most cases, the seller is made happiest by showing them more money. Obviously, I always try to do my best to accommodate any buyer and their agent but, in the end, it’s not really my concern how “evil” they think I am after all is said and done.

  8. bugeyedbrit

    at 3:43 am

    Trouble is, a selling agent can do what they like in this kind of market, they set the rules and can amend/ignore them as they see fit, as an example of this I was looking to buy a house in the east end in 2012, it was a nice place, and had a realistic offer price, but they were probably to try an illicit a bidding war. Come deadline on the night they would deign to look at offers, we were the only registered bidder at the allotted time, so put in a bid of the asking price, and signed another offer of 10% above on case they wanted more than the asking (at this point I refused to bid more as I would essentially be bidding up myself). The deadline passes, at which point we thought we were in with a chance of getting the house, but we then receive a call from the listing agent informing us they are prepared to let a late offer be considered (3 hours past the ‘deadline’ for getting your bid in). Our agent advised sending in our +10% bid as a preemptive strike to show we were serious, but mysteriously the 2nd bidder managed to outbid that offer by 5k…..
    So you tell me who was right/wrong here, was the listing agent wrong for ignoring their own deadline, or right for doing whats best for their client? Damned if he did accept our offer (if another higher offer was around, just not actually registered), or damned by us the potential buyers as I feel we were used as a stalking horse to drum up the other offer….
    In the end I am kind of glad it didn’t work out, I ended up in a house I love, with a double garage (this other house had none), and in an area I now love more than this one was in, but at the time I had a seriously pi$$ed off wife who rightly felt aggrieved that we had played by the rules, but somehow still got screwed!

  9. Mugabe

    at 11:14 am

    ?Ma buto? Lie lee ly queue. !Ees singaloose!

  10. Lee

    at 11:24 am

    I’m about to put my “family-sized” condo on the market and, with a baby and toddler at home, I would want my agent to go with #1 or #2. I’m sure if we end up in this situation, a buyer-agent will say my agent didn’t do the best thing for me because maybe I could have gotten a higher price if we held back offers, but what the selling client wants should be the only consideration.

    1. Nealestate

      at 4:06 pm

      See, here is a perfect example of where the seller may chose convenience over top dollar. It’s not uncommon. Multiple offer situation, with a fair offer on the table but I’m convinced that I could get my seller more, and all within the established deadline even… But my seller’s are already ecstatic with the current high-bid that they’ve been presented with, and I’m more than happy to stop it there. Of course I provide them with my opinion (it’s what they’re paying me to do) but whatever they decide is king.

      About 5 years ago, my mother actually had a client who settled “early” simply because they felt that their cats were uncomfortable with the traffic coming through their house… True story.

      1. Chroscklh

        at 6:34 pm

        I sympathize this client of mother. I confess I did same – my siberian tigers became very danger. Destroy sofa and spray everywhere. What kind jungle cat this client have?

    2. Paully

      at 5:53 pm

      A quick sale with limited disruption to your life can be a very valuable thing. The dollar value of the offer is not the only part of the value equation.

  11. Christopher Bibby

    at 5:31 pm

    Great piece David. To clarify, the seller had already been listed with another agent for months at a similar price and was exhausted with the process. Based on his previous experience we opted for offers anytime. The buyers and agents who missed out had an opportunity to make an offer on the previous listing. My opinion is offers anytime, an agent in our office listed a house last week and took offers the same day and had 7. I can appreciate getting to the point rather than telling everyone offers are on a Tuesday at 7pm and then accepting a bully offer on a Saturday at 10pm. Last year I was the first agent in a house on two occasions and had agents accept offers within three hours or less of seeing it, everyone was happy in the end. Good luck to everyone this fall!

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