Buying March 25, 2012

Dear Moms and Dads of Homebuyers

This is an open letter to the parents of the world who have grown children looking to buy a home. I have 4 children myself. While they are not grown, I get the parent thing. I laugh when people mention “18 years” as the length of time for active duty parenting, because if I live to be 110, I’ll still worry about my children when they are in their 70’s and 80s. And I truly appreciate the well meaning parents out there who are assisting their grown children in the purchase of real estate, either financially, with advice, or encouragement. But some parents only end up sabotaging their children’s efforts, and even when you love and care for your children and give them money, you still need to remember that they are their own grown people.

The inspiration for this piece came recently when a client emailed me saying that she spoke with her parent, and that she was going to go with an agent referred to her mother. As a last ditch effort, I asked her to have her mother Google me before making the final decision. I applaud her mother for being open minded, doing so and recanting, saving the agreement I made and retaining me as listing agent. It is my opinion that she did right by her daughter, which was her intention from the start anyway.

There are two things parents of prospective home buyers should always avoid.

Your children should be free to choose their own agent (and other professionals). It is a seldom discussed aspect of real estate that it is a massive financial event. Yet I have seen grown parents insist that their children use Aunt Ethel, Cousin Joe, or an equally unqualified person by mere virtue of the relationship. Aunt Ethel sells 2 houses a year and is asleep by 9pm. Cousin Joe just got his license. Are they really the best person to broker the largest financial event of your life? The same goes for lawyers, which are integral to the real estate process in New York. The toughest deals I have closed (or seen die) are the ones where the attorney is a round peg in a square hole because he’s a relative or family friend.

You’d never ask an eye doctor to set a broken bone. Yet I see litigators begrudgingly used as real estate attorneys, and it never works. Use a specialist. The biggest reason for using the wrong agent and attorney is typically the insistence of the parents, who attach that string because they are contributing financially. They don’t realize the importance of specialization. And that is dangerous. Real estate is a business transaction, not an instrument by which you dole out favors to friends and relatives.

Never be an 11th hour veto. The bane of every agent’s existence is showing a young couple 35 houses, finally finding that perfect place and negotiating a good price for their client, and then being told that the buyer’s parents would like to see it “now that we’ve found it.” Some of the time, the folks come in, say they love it, and everyone goes forward. Sometimes the parents get out of the car with a big puss on their face and they could walk into the Taj Mahal and it isn’t good enough for their baby. Often, these folks haven’t bought or sold real estate since the Reagan administration. Sometimes they just can’t let go of their children growing up and buying their own place.

These parents haven’t been out walking through the rain to homes by the dozen with us. They haven’t seen the slanted floors, dirty litter boxes, barking dogs, roller coaster driveways, swamp back yards, and all the other things their grown, employed, children have sifted through to find the right place. They just come from a world where half the money bought twice the home. And we can’t bring them up to speed before they tell the kids that they’ll be making a huge mistake if they proceed, or some variation. If a parent wants to have veto power, they should be involved earlier. I have no problem bringing the folks on a showing- why would I? But coming in after all the work is done and flushing it all away out of sheer nostalgia is tragic. It isn’t just a waste of work, it causes lost opportunities.

It boils down to letting go and respecting the decision of the very people you yourself raised to be smart enough to live in this world when you are not around. Let them go. Be supportive, and cut the strings.