Regulatory Affairs Case Study: You’ve heard the expression “Measure Twice, Cut Once”? This is a story of “Read Twice, Act Once!”

By Sheryl B. Graham, Consumer Protection Officer

After a transaction closed, the seller of the property filed a complaint with the Commission against the buyer’s agent. The buyer agent had been present at the nearly vacant property with the buyer during the home inspection.  While there, the buyer agent texted the listing agent and asked if the seller was going to sell any of the items in the garage.  The listing agent promptly answered via text “LOL.  He doesn’t want to sell anything.” The buyer agent replied “Awesome!!  We will pick through it then.”  The listing agent followed up with another text stating “Hey!  The seller said he isn’t interested in selling anything” 

That evening, the seller contacted the listing agent to say two quilts were missing and things in the garage were “rummaged” through and set aside as if someone was coming back for more.  The home inspection was the only scheduled appointment that day and the listing agent remembered the texts with the buyer agent earlier that day.  The listing agent texted the buyer agent about the missing items and explained the seller wanted the items back within the hour or he would notify the police.  When the buyer agent returned the items that evening, the seller was waiting and videotaped the return.

Although the identified items were brought back, the seller still expressed his distrust and questioned if everything was returned.  During the investigation, the buyer agent explained she occasionally misreads information and that she read the listing agent’s text as saying “He isn’t interested in keeping anything.” The buyer agent stated she did not read the follow-up text from the listing agent, thinking it repeated the same message, until she had left the property with the items.  

Consumers put their trust in brokers not only to guide them through transactions, but to safeguard their real and personal property. If a broker knows that they need to read something twice to ensure accuracy or ask someone to verify their statement or meaning, then do just that.  In this case, reading twice before acting once would have saved a lot of frustration, embarrassment and distrust. 

Once the buyer agent’s broker-in-charge learned of the issue, the Broker-in-charge stepped in and handled the remainder of the transaction, put the buyer agent on probation, and required the agent to take an ethics class. The Commission cautioned the buyer agent to exercise greater care to communicate clearly with other parties in a transaction and to safeguard personal items in properties listed for sale.  All brokers can learn from this case to be clear when communicating via text. Texting on the fly can lead to misunderstandings and incomplete thoughts.  Reread the communication and confirm your understanding or call the other person before taking action.