Falling under the bus
Fri 12 Sep 2014
Each month, I ask one of our team to write an article for our internal newsletter - and it can be about absolutely anything they choose. Some are very amusing, some are more sentimental and some can be completely off the wall. But whatever the subject, they are always a pleasure to read.The below article, written by David Mendel this month, a sales negotiator working in our Kensington office, was so poignant, I thought I'd share it:"As soon as you agree a sale, treat both buyer and seller as though they may fall under a bus at any time". These words were the advice of a manager of mine, many years ago when I first started. And these words have generally stood me in good stead but, every so often I get caught out.
I recently agreed the sale of a two-bedroom flat with a glorious roof terrace in Kensington, to a charming lady. As a single woman it was everything she wanted. It was secure and portered and being on the top floor, made the perfect lock-up-and leave.
On agreeing the sale, I did what I always do recommend solicitors. The purchaser wouldnt discuss it and had a favoured solicitor, whilst the vendor at least telephoned Belinda Frixou for a quote, but decided that she was too expensive. After four days of shopping around, the vendor finally settled on a solicitor based far away in Ealing. OK, Ealing isnt that far away, but it may as well have been Siberia. His opening hours were 9 to 4.30 with a one and a half hour lunch break (I am not making this up come and ask me who he is and you can call and listen to the out of hours voicemail).
A week after the sale was agreed, the vendors solicitor had still not applied for a management pack. Five chasing phone calls and twenty two days later, the management pack was finally sent. As soon as the pack landed, I telephoned the purchasers solicitor to enquire as to when he would raise enquiries. "Its summer and there arent exactly buyers queuing up", he told me. I tried instilling a sense of urgency in the purchaser, but so far as she was concerned, her trusted solicitor knew best. We advised our client that viewings should start again.
Not long after re-marketing, my colleague Julia came up with a buyer at a higher price, but perhaps more importantly, the new buyer had a solicitor with a pulse and a fired-up mortgage broker - both of whom had a coherent strategy to exchange contracts in a specific time-frame. The purchasers solicitor finally raised enquiries, but at five weeks after the sale was agreed, it was too little, too late and papers were recalled. The buyer was distraught. She didnt think it was fair that someone else had stepped in and taken the contract when she had the vendors word that it would be sold to her.
The point here isnt so much about the morals of agreeing a sale whilst not exclusively dealing with one party, but how to reliably agree a sale in a system where nothing is binding and all we have is a 'promise'. Having worked in selling overseas homes, I can tell you that theres no perfect system in any country to make a property transaction fool-proof. But regardless of the pros and cons of our system, we have no choice but to accommodate the structure we have.
We would never have the dilemma as to whether to grant exclusivity if every buyer who promised to buy did just that. It stands to reason that if something represents value for money, more than one person will want it, and as agents, it is left with us to agree on a strategy to close a sale with who we hope is a genuine buyer, whilst minimising the risk that the chosen buyer will not perform.
At Marsh & Parsons, our fall-through rate is healthy compared to many of our competitors, because we make it our business to agree sales with strictly defined parameters, including time-frames, which both parties should adhere to, and where possible, we recommend solicitors and a mortgage broker who have proved themselves in previous transactions.
I havent had a buyer fall under a bus yet, but Ive had several who have found elsewhere, become concerned about the market, or just lost heart. Its simple really - minimise the time that a sale progresses and you minimise the risk, and the best way to do this is to work with competent and where possible, recommended solicitors and mortgage brokers."