You can’t make this stuff up
As real estate brokers, the majority of our business is by referral, and that is truly how we prefer it.
Late last summer, we were contacted by a new client who had had his home listed with another company for 6 months. After working with us and following our specific advice and process, his home sold in just 11 days. That fall when his father needed to sell and downsize to a smaller home, he immediately referred him to work with Todd and I at Green Fin Realty. The home was located out of Fresno, but close enough that we felt we could work directly with him as he was going to need a high degree of consultation because his house needed a lot of work before hitting the market.
From time to time, we have interesting stories that crop up and we get a kick out of sharing them with folks. However, you really can’t make the stuff up. No one would believe us anyway. Our story starts in early October as Todd and I drove out to meet with Gary, our soon to be new client. After introductions and getting to know each other for a while, we walked through the process we’ve created for our selling clients as well as our company’s results of achieving quick over-asking sales. We connected with Gary instantly and he liked the information we had discussed with him. Besides, the fact that his son had referred him was more than enough for him. He was anxious to sign a contract and get the process started. Ideally, he wanted to sell before the upcoming election, but there was a lot of work needed to be done to prepare his home and achieve the maximum possible profit that he wanted. We got started right away and after 6 weeks of work, the house was ready the week of Thanksgiving. We typically run targeted paid advertising for one-week during our Coming Soon campaign to create a buzz for the property. During this time, we hang a “Coming Soon” sign rider underneath the For Sale sign and another sign rider with the Web address for the property. This way people are able to have full access to the property photographs and video virtual tour on the Internet.
Upon the conclusion of our Coming Soon campaign, we went live on the MLS the first Thursday of December and had an over-asking accepted offer within 10 days. We opened escrow and everything was tracking right along with the initial plan.
That is until January 23, 2017, when I received an email from the local MLS Office with a citation stating: False or Misleading Advertising and Representations and a $400.00 fine. Coming Soon listings were not allowed IF the sign on the house stated: “For Sale”. Apparently, consumers (in their opinion) find this confusing. Is the house For Sale or is it Coming Soon?
To say I was shocked would be a profound understatement. After taking a minute to collect my frazzled thoughts, I proceeded to call and find out what this was all about as well as who had filed this complaint against us. The local MLS, however, would not disclose who made the complaint but would say that it was a local realtor (not a consumer) and that the complaint was filed on 11/26/16 (2 months prior). They were just getting around to notifying us. For those of you that know me, then you know it’s not in my nature to go down without a fight when faced with injustice. I promptly requested a hearing in front of the local MLS board so we could plead our case directly to them. Surely they’d see this was just a misunderstanding.
One week went by with no response from them when suddenly, I was notified on January 30th at 4:30 pm by email that my hearing date would be in 2 days on February 1 at 12:05 pm. Thankfully, we had been doing research into the matter while waiting to hear from them so we were ready to head South for our day of reckoning. Two days later, we arrived for our hearing at noon and were instructed to wait. And, wait we did. For 30 minutes, while the board members had lunch in their conference room seemingly enjoying making us wait it out. Once lunch was finished, a man came out to gather us and we were led to the large conference room to be greeted by approximately 25 people, all seated in a horse shoe fashion. We were escorted to the proverbial hot seat(s), right smack dab in the middle of the group. As 50 eyeballs settled squarely on us, we gathered our thoughts and began with introductions and a simple question. We asked for clarification on the “Coming Soon” citation we were accused of, as the actual violation code said absolutely nothing about “Coming Soon” signs or anything pertaining to Coming Soon campaigns at all.
The interesting thing was, the board had no clear answer for this question other than to say, “they’re not allowed”. Period, end of sentence. Todd proceeded to ask how a “Coming Soon” sign is somehow more confusing on a For Sale sign than a “Sold” or “Pending” sign hanging underneath it. After all, is the house for sale or is it sold? It can’t be both at the same time. Is the house for sale, or is it pending? What in fact was the logic the board had used to differentiate that a Coming Soon was confusing but not the other signs? Also, how is it that the agent whom had filed the complaint would be confused by a Coming Soon sign but not a Sold or Pending sign? Once again, uncomfortable looks were exchanged and no clear answer was brought forth. They finally had no choice but to admit that this was an interpretation of their own rule and nothing more or less.
We watched and listened as people in the room shared their opinions on the subject as if we were somehow no longer in the room. The conversation was all over the place.
I then proceeded to tell them a story. You see, our client had become very upset by a female agent that contacted him the day after the obituary of his wife’s passing was in the newspaper. She was very aggressive and would call (harass) him every few days as she begged him to allow her to list his home. Ironically, when our For Sale sign (and Coming Soon) sign when up in front of his property, she called once again the next day. She was apparently outraged with him for not listing with her. As I concluded my story, I mentioned (in jest) that surely this was not the same disgruntled agent who had filed a complaint against us? More uncomfortable looks were exchanged but No response was offered. Side Note: This is yet another example of why the Real Estate Industry is loathed by the general public. That is because people resort to these tactics of begging and harassing people for business. Somehow they just don’t understand that this style of business acumen simply does not work!
After a brief and uncomfortable silence, I went on to explain that when I drove out to hang our “Sold” sign rider underneath the For Sale sign, our sign was nowhere to be found. It had been stolen, sign, post and all. We had to reimburse our sign post company for the cost of the sign as well as the loss of our own sign which we had just had made at a $65 dollar cost. It was brand new. I asked if this was a common occurrence for them as something like this has never happened in the Fresno/Clovis area. One of the board members responded by saying, “Yes, it happens all the time.” I suppose that in of itself is a testament to doing business in this area. Especially as an outsider.
We then asked the board why our citation, which was by their own admission merely an interpretation of a statute that said nothing about “Coming Soon” signs was considered by them to be a non-correctable citation when it’s so easy to fix. A simple phone call, “Hey, we don’t allow Coming Soon Signs” and Todd or I would have immediately had the sign rider removed in less than 20 minutes. All they would say though was that it was “False and Misleading advertising” which still is perplexing to me.
Todd then asked if the no “Coming Soon” policy was a new rule. The president of the board responded by saying it had been in place for a long time and all the “local” members were very aware of it. Upon hearing this, Todd pulled out 2 copies of the same picture and passed them down each side for the board members to take a look at. Todd had pulled the picture from one of the 2016 board members Facebook page. It was a picture of a For Sale sign with a “Coming Soon” sign rider directly beneath it. I must say, it was a pretty great moment and one that I won’t soon forget. We were intently watching the faces as each of the 2017 board members recognized their 2016 colleague and some even pointed to the picture of them on the wall where it was proudly displayed. At this point in time, it became obvious our time had been exhausted and they were no longer interested in entertaining this discussion. They asked if we had anything else we wanted to add in closing. I said, “Well yes I do”.
In our closing remarks, we mentioned that MLS boards across the state are seemingly having debates on “coming soon” sign riders and campaigns. Whether they should be allowed period or if allowed, how should they be governed? As there is no official statewide mandate and their own local rules were ambiguous at best that they should dismiss our fine. Further, the local MLS should not be allowed to send out citations 2 months after a violation had occurred. That in of itself is negligent. I continued to elaborate that the violation code needs to be clearly defined in relation to “coming soon” and not a vague subjective interpretation. With that, we ended our hearing.
Todd and I walked out of that meeting feeling that no matter the outcome, we came, we conquered and we felt a sense of victory as our voices were heard by that board regardless of what their decision would ultimately be. We had such a great feeling of accomplishment, companionship, and love for each other on how we handled ourselves and we knew God was in control of us during that meeting.
Several weeks later, they got back to us and had decided to leave our fine in place. We owed them $400 dollars and that was final. Ultimately, we think it was more of an indirect statement of “you’re an outsider and you need to stick to your own turf.” Thank goodness the Fresno MLS is not this way and run by good people that foster a spirit of cooperation.
I would be surprised if they took any of our recommendations or made any policy changes to improve how they do business with their members. They seem to be all about enforcing their rules and charging fines rather than doing business the ole fashioned way with a handshake and a conversation.
In life, we don’t win all the battles but when we work together as Todd and I did that day, we gain more than we lose. Life is amazing and we are blessed to have each other!