Please keep in mind that this post is more than 3 years old. Opinions change. Tastes change. Everything changes. I may still agree with or like this, or I may not. But everything is kept up here for archival purposes.
Mary Lowry Smith / December 28, 2013
There’s a story behind the purchase of my house, that I thought should be known. It’s not a good story. So I will be completely factual wherever possible, and label any guesses or speculation. I believe that will still convey the necessary information. So… be prepared for some overly specific and elaborate language. I just want to share my experiences.
The story involves the sales team, on the house. By team, I mean the former owner, and the seller’s agent, and lawyer.
I’d like to quickly describe one of those people and my opinions of them, to basically rule them out of the discussion. And will do so again later with a second person. The seller — the former owner — to the best of my knowledge from the records, sales documents, and various googling sessions, was a retired lady who lives in Pennsylvania. At some point in the previous 10 years, she had purchased this house with her now-deceased husband and sister (or maybe sister-in-law). I don’t know for sure why it was purchased. But it seemed evident that she was now retiring, and her family members had passed, and she just wanted to get rid of the house. So I have a hard time believing she was in any way malevolent in her intentions.
She had a seller’s agent — a woman named Mary E. Lowry Smith; last known to be working with Coldwell Banker. As near as I can tell, she repeatedly took every opportunity to do the work related to this sale in the cheapest, easiest manner possible, and I will describe the incidents I am referring to below. It’s understandable, and even desirable, that an agent would try to save their client money. But in these cases, it often seemed to cause more problems than it was worth.
I don’t know of any specific rules stating what a Seller’s Agent *must* do for their clients, aside from some rules regarding ethical practices. But if I was hiring a seller’s agent, right at the top of my list of desired services would be “assisting me in ensuring the house is ready to be sold”. And the house did have the standard generic coat of paint over everything, and they responded in one way or another to all of our repair requests. And we even made it to within approximately 2 or 3 days of closing, last Fall. This is when the title agent I was using discovered that the title wasn’t clear.
(If you don’t know, a clear title would mean that the house is legally allowable to be sold, specifically by the person trying to sell it. No leans, full ownership, etc.)
So… when the dust settles, it turns out that the title wasn’t clear because the paperwork for inheriting the full house from her family members was never properly filed in DC. This is the first time I asked “Why didn’t the seller’s agent catch this BEFORE we started going to closing?!”. It may not be their legal responsibility, I don’t know. But as I said, it’s certainly something I hope any agent I hired would check on. “Dear client… do you have the right to sell this house you’re having me list?”. Given that the proper paperwork *was* filed in the seller’s home state, I give the seller the benefit of the doubt that they thought they had already done the right thing. But I would expect my agent to check very thoroughly.
We spent a little while bouncing messages back and forth, with various people trying to find out how to solve the problem. It soon became evident that the seller would need a lawyer to deal with the paperwork mess that is DC government. So… did they go and hire a lawyer specializing in estate issues? (This was an inheritance problem). I don’t think so. I don’t know the lawyer personally, but some googling on his name and offices and such shows that he had an office phone number in common with the seller’s agent — Mary Lowry Smith. I suppose they could be both renting executive offices from the same building. But it seems more likely that instead of seeking a specialist in estate law, the agent worked with a lawyer at her firm/brokerage, who presumably specializes in real estate law.
My agent — who has been doing this for a couple decades — was of the opinion that a local estate lawyer could probably have cleared up the issues in anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. How long did the sellers take to clear up the issue? Until early May… about 7 months.
I mentioned earlier wanting to quickly clear a second person. I don’t actually have any hard feelings against the seller’s lawyer. If my guess about him working outside his specialty is correct, then I’m sure he did his best. Working outside your usual realm can’t be easy. And certainly not when you’re dealing with DC government bureaucracy.
7 months. That was a ridiculously long time. It caused huge amounts of issues in my personal and professional life. And from what I was told, about half the time when we inquired about the status of the work, we were told that the seller’s agent was sure everything was being done, and she didn’t want to pester the lawyer.
I really needed to move. My current living situation was awkward at best. And when it became obvious this was the long stretch, we decided to take the seller up on an earlier offer of pre-residency, where you essentially rent the property until you finish the sale. And this is when the offer was no longer available. They were worried about what I might do to the property, and how that could affect them if I didn’t finish the purchase. Me, who had been waiting for months and months to buy this place. And a property that had been sitting obviously vacant in a questionable neighborhood for over a year.
7 months. And once that was over, I had to redo things on my end, because the mortgage company wanted to rerun things with more up-to-date numbers. But… we finally made it to closing, literally the weekend I was to be forced to leave my place of residence. We elected to sign the papers at different times. In the best of circumstances, it seems like agents try to keep sellers and buyers apart, and for good reasons. And this certainly wasn’t the best of circumstances. So, I went in, and signed my papers first, thanked everybody, and went home to start moving my things.
At which point, I got a call from my agent, who was very unhappy. Right from the start, we had been discussing with the seller that they would pay closing costs. We even had them sign a document to that effect. But at the closing table, the seller’s agent — Mary Lowry Smith — said that they had never agreed to this. When we showed them the document, they said they didn’t understand what it was when they signed it. Here, I only see two options: 1 – She was telling the truth, in which case she had a client sign documents without actually understanding them, which seems like really bad professional practice. Or 2 – She was lying to get out of her client paying those fees.
I don’t think her denial would have ever stood up in court. But I was literally on the brink of homelessness. I had just spent 9 months trying to buy this house. If I were to dispute it, it would mean more delays… weeks or more likely months. And legal bills. And no house in the mean time.
My agent who has more patience than is good for him, worked out a deal to split the costs of closing among several parties. It got paid. They signed the papers. I owned the house, 9 months later.
I don’t think anyone broke the law, nor any rules. But I dealt with a seller’s agent — Mary Lowry Smith — who didn’t confirm that their house was legally sellable. An agent who I doubt hired a specialist to solve a complex legal issue that came up. An agent who didn’t seem concerned enough to pressure the work forward. An agent who couldn’t get me residence. An agent who did things that were at least questionable, that cost me thousands of dollars extra at closing.
That is apparently what the seller got, and we dealt with, when they hired Mary Lowry Smith.
As I said, I tried to keep it factual. And where I was speculating or making educated guesses, I clearly said so. And aside from saying she was probably trying to save her client money, I didn’t speculate on her reasons for her actions. And if she ever wishes to discuss it with me, and even correct me if it turns out I am wrong or mistaken somewhere in here, I’d be happy to.