I bought a house for a bit under $2 million in Los Altos, Calif., (about average for around here). The seller and I were both represented by (different) agents from the same local branch office. I was encouraged by my agent to bid aggressively for the house as “several disclosure packets had gone out” and the situation was supposedly very competitive. After my offer had been presented (and accepted), I learned that in fact my bid had been the only one presented to the sellers — there were no other competing bids presented at the offer deadline.
When I pointed this out to my agents, they said their realty office would provide me $10,000 “toward closing costs,” apparently out of the goodness of their hearts. No release of liability was required. Was I lucky to get such nice real estate brokers, or should I be considering legal action? For later tax assessment purposes, is there any precedent for claiming the house sale price was actually $10,000 less than recorded, due to this agency payment?
We hate to point this out to you, but you always need to work with a real estate broker you can trust. While we don’t know if you ever considered this real estate agent’s trust in the equation of buying a home, the issue of trust is of utmost importance.
Were you lucky? We don’t know. The information you received is not unlike what we hear our readers tell us when their brokers pressure them into putting in an offer on a home or increasing the amount of an offer during negotiations. Not all brokers will pressure their clients, but certainly some do.
Your letter doesn’t say that your broker told you that other buyers were bidding on the home. You were told that other buyers were given information or packages about the home. The brokers could have given you correct information, and either you took it to mean that you were competing with others, or your broker might have intended on giving you a sense of urgency to buy the home.
In either case, the real question is whether the brokers did something wrong. California law tends to pioneer issues like this, and you could seek legal advice about your situation.
The real estate broker has offered to pay $10,000 toward your closing costs once you brought up this issue. You might have found a really good broker who feels bad for you and would rather keep you happy than have you feel bad about the deal. Your broker may be entirely correct. Your broker might have thought other people would come in and bid against you and thought that this home was the best home for you at the time.
Whether you’re buying a home for $2 million or $200,000, the psychology of buying is the same. If you’ve been working with a reputable and good real estate agent, that agent may believe, after working with you for some time, that the home you’re bidding on is the right home for you.
If that agent has a sense of what home values are in the area, he or she may also encourage you to make an offer to avoid having you walk from the deal. For many home buyers, this process works well. The buyers end up buying the home they like and they move on to close on it.
It’s possible you wound up with the right home at the right price. You might have initially bid less if you had known no one else was bidding on it, but you might have come up in the counteroffer or even lost the home if your agent didn’t push you to buy it. It’s quite hard to say where things would have ended up and how low the seller would have gone.
But if the broker did nothing wrong — and perhaps the agent didn’t do anything wrong — the agent is making a fair amount from your purchase of the home. Your agent would rather that you buy the home, be happy in the purchase and make future referrals to him or her than have you feel bad about the purchase.
It’s quite hard to second-guess what happened with your deal. You’d know better as to whether the broker had dealt fairly and well with you during your entire home-buying process. If you feel that he or she was fair with you, you might give the benefit of the doubt and move on.
On the other issue of the purchase price, we don’t think that the agent’s contribution toward your closing costs will adjust the purchase price one way or the other. Your lender will still consider the contract price to be the price you are paying for the home, and all of the closing documents will show the purchase price as what is stated in the contract, without regard to your agent’s contribution of $10,000 to your closing costs.
Ilyce R. Glink ’s latest book is “Buy, Close, Move In!” Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate lawyer. If you have questions, you can call Glink’s radio show (800-972-8255) any Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Contact Glink and Tamkin through the Web site thinkglink.com.